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Whiting to Wimbledon and back for Mary Lou Piatek-Daniels

Whiting native Mary Lou Piatek-Daniels stands near sign for her namesake tennis courts Whiting Municipal Sports Complex Aug 2. The

Whiting native Mary Lou Piatek-Daniels stands near the sign for her namesake tennis courts at the Whiting Municipal Sports Complex on Aug 2. The former pro will conduct a tennis clinic for city residents on Aug. 31.

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The uncommon tennis skills of a girl from a small city allowed Mary Lou Piatek (now Piatek-Daniels) to see the world during her amateur and pro career. Looking to stay connected with her Whiting roots, Piatek-Daniels is giving back to that city.

On April 27, Whiting and its parks department christened a five-court tennis facility as the Piatek Tennis Courts. Part of lakefront redevelopment initiative, a prominent sign marks the spot and shows Piatek-Daniels as a young girl being taught tennis by her father, Joe Piatek, with a more recent photo from her pro career.

She said that honor, bestowed on a mild spring day with family and friends present and women’s tennis pioneer Billie Jean King speaking via TV, warmed her heart.

“The courts are beautiful,” said Piatek-Daniels, a lifetime member of the United States Tennis Association. “It’s a great feeling. It’s something special for these courts to be named after not only me, but the family.”

Piatek-Daniels, who turned 52 on Tuesday, continues to be active in fitness and tennis activities. She will conduct a clinic for city residents at the Piatek Courts on 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 31.

Married and living in Munster since 1987, Piatek-Daniels knows many region residents remember her by the Piatek name. She met her husband, Paul Daniels, while playing tennis at the Midtown Tennis Club and in tournaments in Chicago’s legendary (but demolished in 1999) International Amphitheater.

Her dad was an elementary and high school principal who identified her athletic potential when she was growing up in the “Little City on the Lake” in the 1970s. Her 1979 junior world championship gave her international visibility in the world of tennis.

“I got to see the world early on,” she said of her early international trips with her mom, Lillian Piatek. “You have to grow up pretty quick… coming from a family of educators, it was not a big thing for me.”

Playing on the boys tennis team at Whiting High School — there was not girls team — Piatek-Daniels was the player area boys did not want to face. Postseason play had her earning individual points, while her teams did not advance.

Piatek-Daniels’ brother and sister were several years older than her. But she clamored to be at their levels, especially when it came to playing sports around the tight-knit neighborhood.

“When I was 7- to 9-years old I played table tennis, which gave me hand-to-eye coordination,” Piatek-Daniels said. “I was always a tomboy. If I wasn’t hitting a tennis ball against the wall, then I was shooting hoops with the basketball. I dabbled into golf.”

She laughingly added: “I like golf even more, because I can’t run on a tennis court like I used to. Some things change as you get old.”

Recruited by many prominent colleges and universities, Piatek-Daniels decided to attend Trinity University in San Antonio. In 1980, she earned All-America honors. Piatek-Daniels was part of the Tigers athletic program for about a year and a half, at which point she decided to turn pro “with no regrets.”

“Coming from Whiting, I would have been lost at a UCLA — those schools have 40,000 people,” Piatek-Daniels said. “That’s why I chose Trinity.”

Piatek-Daniels quickly realized the caliber of players she would face as a pro. In July 1980 in the Women’s Tennis Association tour finals, she met Martina Navratilova. Though she lost that early high-profile singles set 3-6, 0-6, she said she learned the Czech-American tennis sensation was a “very nice” person.

“Martina was obviously a great tennis player,” said Piatek-Daniels. “I always seemed to have better results against Martina than Chris Evert, because Martina was a server-and-volleyer and so if you have someone who serves and comes to the net, you have like a target.”

In a career that officially entered retirement shortly after the 9-11 tragedy, Piatek-Daniels amassed a career singles record of 152-214, with two titles. Her doubles stats show a winning record of 233-214 with seven titles. She was ranked as high as No. 31 in the world in 1983.

For the last few years, Piatek-Daniels has volunteered on multiple days each week to deliver food to shut-ins via the Meals on Wheels program.

“The people are so very nice,” she said. “You’re helping someone, and that’s what I want to do.”

Piatek-Daniels praised Whiting mayor Joe Stahura’s “above and beyond” commitment to redevelopment and beautification; she said the results are tangible especially around the lake and in the city’s downtown.

She cited the construction of the Piatek Courts and the baseball facilities as another reason natives are eager to return. For her it is “From Whiting to Wimbledon”… and back.



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