By Friday, August 18, the Connecticut Open’s brand-new media center had already been bustling with activity. This year’s tournament, marking the 20th season of WTA competition in New Haven, was just two days away from kicking off. Qualifying matches were about to get underway, but inclement weather had put the event’s initial wave of tennis on hold.
But no matter when the first balls would actually be hit, the Premier-level tournament truly began at 10:50 a.m.—the moment Anne Worcester walked through the door of the media center, carrying a pot of black-eyed susans in one hand, and the livelihoods of countless individuals on her back.
“Happy day one!” exclaimed Worcester, one of the sport’s most respected tournament directors. But it was hardly the first day of work for the 57-year-old former CEO of the WTA tour. A relentless advocate for tennis and the ways it can transform communities, Worcester speaks of her event in the measured and thoughtful manner that imbues every one of the conversations she’ll have on this day.
“This tournament has always existed to give back,” says Worcester; the Connecticut Open became a 501(c)(3) charitable organization when the state purchased a WTA sanction in 2013. “That doesn’t happen by moving in and out of a city for two months. It is a year-round effort with a lot of partnership, collaboration and civic engagement.”
This day, however, might be Worcester’s busiest of the last 365. She begins making the rounds at 10:53 a.m., walking through the corridors of the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale with purpose. She pops into the newly configured WTA office, says hello to the staff, advises that the start of qualifying matches will be delayed, and drops off the flowers.
“Remember you said, ‘Bring me some sunshine?’” Worcester tells one employee on the overcast morning.
A few seconds later, Worcester greets one of the tournament doctors she’s known for years.
“We’ll make another call about play at 12 noon,” she tells him with assurance at 10:54 a.m.
With no matches going, players have filled up the recently renovated Player Center, including Kristyna Pliskova, who requested a late wild card into the tournament. Worcester dispensed two wild cards weeks earlier, to Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard; both headline attractions helped promote the Connecticut Open throughout the summer. She had also been in contact with the teams for Madison Keys and Angelique Kerber, potential entrants depending on their play in Cincinnati, and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, who because of tour rules couldn’t receive a wild card, to Worcester’s dismay.
“I go to Miami in March, when the players are thinking about their non-mandatory tournaments for the summer, and then I go to Wimbledon, which is right before our entry deadline,” says Worcester. “I’m very respectful of the agents, but I talk to the players directly, and keep in touch year round.”
Ultimately, the 40th-ranked Pliskova was left to compete in the qualifying tournament.
“So sorry that I couldn’t do main draw,” Worcester tells Pliskova at 10:55 a.m.
After giving updates to other players and coaches on the current situation—“It’s going to get better soon”—Worcester makes way towards her office, but not before speaking to security—“You’re checking badges before people go in there?”—and, at 10:58 a.m., chatting with one of her associates—“You’re mentioned in a Forbes interview I did.”
Sitting at her office desk at 10:59 a.m., Worcester eyes a pair of Nike sneakers signed by John McEnroe, who couldn’t make his previously scheduled appearance at the tournament. The shoes will be auctioned off to raise money for breast cancer during PowerShares Legends Night, one of 11 special events held at this year’s Connecticut Open.
It was a quick glance. As the clock reads 11:00 a.m., Worcester is signing checks for the many vendors and contractors whose work was completed just in time for the big show.
“It’s so important to be as organized as we possibly can,” says Worcester, “because there’s always last-minute things that pop up.”
This 10-minute stretch should give a clear indication of the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes in pro tennis, particularly at the non-major tournaments which dot the crowded calendars. It’s also what makes tournament directors like Worcester so vital to the continued growth of the sport.
“I never thought I’d be here 20 years later,” says Worcester, a mother of two, who began working in New Haven when the itinerant WTA event relocated to New England so it could be closer to the looming US Open. “It’s not just a nine-day, let’s-do-some-good-for-charity philosophy. It’s completely who we are; it’s our core value. That’s why I’m still here.”
Worcester doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, any time soon. She peels off a two-sided business card—one side for her role as Connecticut Open tournament director, the other for her role as Chief Marketing Officer of Market New Haven, a partnership that promotes local businesses, attractions and the diverse city at large.
It’s a natural coupling: main-draw players at the Connecticut Open can play golf for free at Yale, receive manicures, pedicures and haircuts downtown, and are given a “dining passport” for complimentary meals at dozens of partnering restaurants. With entourages paying their own way, the program welcomes players to New Haven while also serving as an economic driver for the city.
“Anne Worcester is a model citizen in the business world,” says Tennis Channel commentator and former player Mary Carillo. “She cares so much; she brings the entire community into her tournament.
“It’s a tough week in a lot of ways, right before the US Open. I so admire her creativity, her commitment, the energy she brings. She’s not just trying to make the players happy—she wants the fans to be happy. She’s got this great outlook.”
Over the next three hours, Worcester will post updates to the Connecticut Open’s Facebook page; go over next week’s schedules for VIP attendees, speak with John DeStefano, the former mayor of New Haven; meet with children from New HYTEs, a local non-profit organization helping disadvantaged youth; introduce the 2017 tournament during a live-streamed press conference; oversee the draw ceremony; determine which first-round matches should be held in the stadium; record segments for the local news network; coordinate with event sponsors; answer “an avalanche of emails”—and, somehow, find the time to answer my questions, all with the professionalism and compassion that’s helped forge hundreds of meaningful relationships with WTA players.
“She’s an inspiration for us, for women,” said Petra Kvitova, one of four Top 15 players who competed in this year’s Connecticut Open. “She’s still improving. She always has a great tournament—it’s always about the director.”
For generations, and for generations to come, tennis has positively impacted the young and old, on and off the court, in countless ways. In this year’s Heroes special, we’ve selected 30 such stories, including a 10-year-old amputee’s life-changing moment with Roger Federer, the rebuilding of a college program after Hurricane Katrina, a former prodigy’s important message as an adult, and a 78-year-old coach’s enduring influence on the pros. Taken together, these 30 stories illustrate how people grow up, grow as individuals and grow old with tennis—the sport of a lifetime. Click here for more Heroes stories.