MB Tennis Open proves value of city Parks and Rec program
by Paul Teetor
The Manhattan Beach tennis pipeline is starting to produce good players – even tournament-tested, college-level championship players – thanks to a comprehensive Parks and Rec kids program that enrolls several hundred beginners every year.
Local legend Maegan Manasse started her career at Live Oak Park, dominated SoCal high school play while at Mira Costa and later ruled the PAC-12 while at Cal. She is now fighting her way up the rungs of the Women’s Tennis Association tour with a career-high ranking of 388 on the WTA computer.
Further evidence of Manhattan Beach’s emerging tennis strength was on display Friday afternoon at the Manhattan Beach Open when 3rd seeded Joey Rotheram, who has grown up here and also played at Mira Costa, fought his way to a closer-than-it-sounds 6-4, 6-4 victory over 11th seeded Jack Pulliam, who also has grown up locally.
Both players credited the Manhattan Parks and Rec program with helping them discover tennis as the right fit for their innate athletic abilities. Both players found their way to private coaches but never lost sight of their public park beginnings.
“I first got into tennis right here on Court 4,” Pulliam said after his close loss at Live Oak Park. “They showed me how to grip the racquet and how to hit topspin when I was five years old.”
Rotheram and Pulliam played an extremely close match that featured fierce top-spin ground strokes and booming serves from both players. In the end, Rotherman’s relentless aggressiveness and willingness to charge the net on anything resembling a short ball proved the difference.
It also illustrated the two-year developmental advantage the 21-year-old Rotheram has over the 19-year-old Pulliam. Rotheram is a star player at the University of California at Santa Barbara, while Pulliam made the varsity as a freshman at Texas A&M but found little playing time and has now transferred to the University of Washington in search of a greater role on his team.
After beating Pulliam, Rotheram advanced all the way to the Open Division semifinals Saturday afternoon, when he lost to eventual champion Philip Bester 6-3, 6-0. Although he didn’t make any excuses for the one-sided loss, Rotheram had a good one he could have used: it was his third match of the day, which happened to be one of the hottest days of the year. Going up against an experienced 30-year-old who has been ranked as high as 220 in the world and actually has a victory over world number one Novak Djokovic at the 2016 Toronto Open was simply too much to ask of a young man who had hit thousands of tennis balls – he played both singles and doubles – since 8 a.m. that morning.
Asked if fatigue had been a factor in his loss, Rotheram gave all the credit to Bester.
“He’s a great player, one of the best I’ve ever played,” he said. “It was a great learning experience.”
In the Open Division Finals, Sunday afternoon at the Manhattan Beach Country Club Bester beat USC player Jake Sand, son of local tennis legend Howard Sand, to repeat his victory in last year’s tournament.
“Phil Bester is now a back-to-back champion,” Tournament Director Michael Hudak said. “That doesn’t happen very often.” Bester took home $2,200 for four day’s work.
The repeat victory was especially impressive, Hudak said, because of the record 73 players who entered the Men’s Open Division. The Women’s Open Division, which had 18 entries, was won by Ingrid Martin, who plays for the University of South Carolina. She took home $800. But before anyone accuses Hudak of practicing gender inequality, he said that the prize money disparity was based simply on the greater number of entries in the men’s division.
“We figured that was the fair way to divide the money,” he said. “It was strictly math-based.”
Hudak was lauded for running a good tournament: efficient, well organized and respectful of players and their various time and scheduling issues.
“I think it was very successful this year,” he said. But he did have one regret.
“This tournament really is two parts. The showcase is our open division, which has a huge draw from all over the state and the country,” he said. “In the lower divisions, it tends to be local players competing for local glory, and this year the lower division entries were down a little bit. We hope to get more local entries next year.”
Among the beach city players who emerged victorious in Sunday’s final round matches held at the MBCC was Jonathan Martinez of Hermosa Beach. He won the 5.0 men’s singles, the category right below the Open Division. The 4.5 men’s singles division was won by Redondo resident Tony Hsu over Mike Hayes of Manhattan Beach. In the Women’s 4.0 singles final, Karrie Arsenault of Hermosa beach beat Karina Kraines of Manhattan Beach.
Look for more MB residents to win prizes in the future as the local pipeline continues to produce polished players.
by Paul Teetor