Learning while not earning: Bellis hails WTA University


The online educational platform launched by the Women’s Tennis Association in March has been a boon for American Catherine ‘CiCi’ Bellis, who feels the resources have been “extremely” helpful for the players during the tour’s COVID-19 shutdown.

The tennis season screeched to a halt in early March, leaving those solely dependent on tournament winnings in financial crisis.

While the governing bodies built a players relief package, the WTA and its long-time technology partner SAP also expedited the rollout of the WTA University to help the athletes gain new skills and knowledge.

The platform is tailor-made for professional players and include financial coaching by certified specialists, guided fitness classes and leadership inspiration from Billie Jean King among others.

“The WTA University is incredible and has been such an amazing resource during this time,” Bellis, 21, told Reuters in an email interview.

“It has been extremely helpful for the players during this time to learn about things off the court for real-world situations. There are a ton of mental health courses that can help players deal with mental challenges.”

Bellis, a former junior number one, was 15 when she earned a wild card into the main draw of the 2014 U.S. Open and made a splash with a victory over 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova.

Her career started building momentum and she was named the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year in 2017, during which she also reached a career-high ranking of 35.

But multiple surgeries to fix problems in her right arm forced her to sit out for 20 months during 2018 and 2019 and she was told she might never play again.

“I considered quitting because of the injuries, yes, but my love for the game pushed me through,” says Bellis, who returned to tennis in November and reached the third round at the 2020 Australian Open.

After choosing to turn pro instead of going to college on a scholarship, a decision she calls “one of the hardest”, Bellis enrolled herself in an online bachelor’s degree program during the injury break.

She has also made the most of courses on the WTA University platform, which has had more than 150 players enrol.

“The business courses attracted me the most,” she said. “I will be able to easily incorporate them into my business classes.”