UC Berkeley tennis player Haley Giavara, Jan. 29, 2021. Credit: Robert Edwards-KLC fotos

Haley Giavara is a charming student-athlete with a bubbly personality, quick to laugh and joke or tell a self-deprecating story. 

That’s the cheerful 20-year-old off the court. 

On the court, however, opponents don’t find Giavara so welcoming. 

How could they? The Cal player transforms into a fierce, hard-hitting competitor between the lines, which explains why she is a rising tennis star in the Pac-12 Conference and beyond. 

Next week, Giavara will try to earn another major achievement at the Berkeley Tennis Club Women’s $60,000 Challenge, where she’s set to contend in the singles competition against top athletes from around the world. 

WHAT: Berkeley Tennis Club Women’s $60,000 Challenge

WHERE: Berkeley Tennis Club, One Tunnel Road, Berkeley 

WHEN: Main Draw (32 singles, 16 doubles) — Tuesday, Sept. 28, to Sunday, Oct. 3; Qualifying tournament (32 singles) — Monday, Sept. 27, to Tuesday, Sept. 28 

WHO:   World-ranked women’s tennis players

INFO:   Free admission on Monday, Sept. 27. Tickets $15 daily from Tuesday-Friday, Sept. 29-Oct. 1; and $20 from Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 2-3.

(Berkeleyside is a sponsor of the tournament)

Is Giavara wary about playing more experienced, highly ranked athletes?

“I don’t get intimidated on the court,” Giavara said. “Honestly, I never look at where (opponents) are from or what the draw is, really. I let my coaches tell me the time of the match and the court I’m playing on, and I try not to psyche myself out.”

Giavara’s confidence comes with good reason. 

Last year, she was named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Northwest Regional Rookie of the Year. She also recently earned a berth in the ITA’s singles All-American Championships and was named 17th in the ITA national rankings.  

Plus, she’s already defeated several world-ranked players, even though she just started her junior year at Cal.

“I know my style and what I have to do, so I try to keep with my strengths and I don’t look too much into what (opponents) have done,” she said. “I get a game plan from my coaches and I try to stick to it.”

Giavara’s style is the power game, modeled somewhat after her childhood heroes, sisters Venus and Serena Williams. She said her youth coach told her not to stress out about mistakes that resulted from aggressive play, a poise-building philosophy that helped her gain confidence over time as she improved her game.

“My coach always said, ‘Don’t worry if the ball goes out,’” she said. “If you’re not worried about missing when you’re starting out, then you can work on technique. Knowing it will all be fine, either way, you can work on progressing as a player.”

Giavara was raised in San Diego but she said she considers Berkeley her adopted hometown, the site of the upcoming tournament. 

UC Berkeley tennis player Haley Giavara. Credit: Pac 12

“I’m so stoked to play in it,” she said, her voice rising with excitement. “When I saw it on the calendar, I said, ‘I have to play that.’”

Cal head coach Amanda Augustus said she is glad Haley will get the opportunity “to compete with some of the best in the world.”

“I’m really glad that she’s going to continue her journey of development on and off the court here at Cal, including with one of her long-term goals, which is to become a successful pro after she graduates,” she said. “She’ll take it one match at a time just as she does in her college tournaments. I’m excited to see how the week progresses for her.”

The Women’s $60,000 Challenge is one of more than 100 tournaments held nationwide by the United States Tennis Association (USTA). This tournament will feature singles and doubles matches at the 115-year-old Berkeley Tennis Club, a pastoral setting that underscores the East Bay’s rich tennis history. The club was founded in 1906 on Hillegass Avenue and moved to its current location on One Tunnel Road in 1917. That Berkeley Hills site has hosted matches featuring past superstars like Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, and Billie Jean King, among many others. 

The club’s membership has included vintage legends like Oakland’s Don Budge, the first person to win the Grand Slam, and Helen Wills Moody, a Cal graduate who was born in Centerville (now part of Fremont) and became one of the greatest players in early women’s tennis.

One wonders how Moody would have fared against powerful modern athletes such as Alycia Parks, a 20-year-old who recently clocked a serve at 129 miles per hour at the U.S. Open, tying Venus Williams’ record. Parks will compete next week in Berkeley among top-flight players such as 70th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, and 83rd-ranked Saisai Zheng of China, whose nickname “Jaguar” refers to her nimble footwork.

The tournament’s daunting list of highly regarded players includes Californians such as 20-year-old Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks and another Bay Area youngster, 19-year-old Katie Volynets of Walnut Creek, who won the prestigious USTA Girls 18s National Championships in 2019. 

Volynets will join Giavara as one of the tournament’s young players with East Bay ties. 

UC Berkeley tennis player Haley Giavara. Credit: Pac 12

Giavara said that one of her favorite parts about living on this side of the Bay Bridge is the area’s famous foodie scene, naming Berkeley’s Fournée Bakery and The Italian Homemade Company as her top local hot spots.

She said she is excited to play in front of family and friends next week at the Berkeley Tennis Club, not far from some of her favorite hangouts in what she now considers her town.

“Berkeley does really feel like my home now,” she said. “This tournament just feels super special.” 

Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the Berkeley Women’s $60,000 Challenge.