Liz Cruz can basically play successfully with anyone. She learned paddle on the job in Connecticut and won her first National Championship not long after, with Ana Brzova in 2015 . She grabbed the 2018 and 2019 Nationals titles with Gabi Niculescu, and was a 2017 finalist with Roxy Enica (and Niculescu in 2021). So far in the 2023-2024 season, Cruz was a finalist with Bea Lopez at the Medinah Cup and a semifinalist with Georgina Alexandre at Chicago Charities.
Two years ago, Cruz moved to Chicago with her husband and their kids. “We are all so happy in Chicago and my club is right near the city. It’s different here but there is a lot of paddle.” Cruz’s sister (and previous partner) Marian had already moved to Chicago with her husband pro Matt Warner so the family gets to see each other often.
After a highly successful tennis career as a junior and playing for El Salvador in the Fed Cup (with teammate Marcela Rodezno) and Pan Am Games, Cruz was recruited to play tennis at the University of South Florida. When she moved to Connecticut to teach tennis, she learned paddle tennis from Scott Slobin at The Patterson Club. “I would play every single tournament. I would lose in the first round, but I would get to the final of the consolations. I was getting better.”
Cruz fell in love with the game of platform tennis from the first shot. “After the first year of competing, something clicked. It was kind of like a chess game, and I knew I could get even better.” As she says on the court with her partners, Punto por punto or one point at a time.
“I’m still traveling. We aren’t getting younger but we can still compete. It’s not like tennis where you have to train every day and are lonely. With paddle, you can meet people from everywhere. That is what I love. The camaraderie,” Cruz summarized. “The paddle game is evolving. My goal is to stay healthy, to stay in shape, and stay competitive with the young players. Even if I don’t win, they will say, ‘Oh Liz is still here!’”
Cruz has committed to developing the Junior program at SCC. This past season, she encouraged “the twins” (Akshay and Kiran Garapati) to play more paddle. They ended up winning the Junior tournaments in Chicago, competing in the men’s league, and playing a few men’s tournaments. “They got really into it,” Cruz smiled. With Cruz and Warner’s encouragement, the twins traveled to Junior Nationals in New Jersey and had a blast.
Cruz said, “We focus on every age I really like to teach the tiny four olds. It’s the first time they played. We can little by little change the culture of the juniors. Before we were teaching 10 and up but now we teach 10 and Unders as well. We have about 40 kids in the program at our club, with three afternoon sessions.”
Cruz welcomes coaching as much as she likes to coach. At last year’s Boston Open, Cruz was on the phone with Patty Hogan between matches. “I love Patty, she’s amazing. She gives me good feedback and good strategic advice.”
“My mental game is my strongest asset. I feel like I keep the team nice and easy. I never lose my mind– if I do it is a problem. Normally, I’m like the head of the team,” she said. “And I want another national title.”
Liz Cruz and Marcela Rodezno once competed in a beach tennis tournament on Long Island and made it to the finals against the number one US team.