Maegan Manasse, the former Cal tennis star, will be competing in the Berkeley Tennis Club Women’s $60K Challenge. Credit: ISI

When Maegan Manasse steps onto a Berkeley tennis court on Monday, it will be much more than just another match. It will be a homecoming.

The former Cal star has many fond memories about her college team — such as winning the Indoor National Championships or the laughter-filled camaraderie she enjoyed daily with teammates and coaches.   

WHAT: Berkeley Tennis Club Women’s Challenge WHERE: Berkeley Tennis Club, One Tunnel Road, Berkeley WHEN: Qualifying Tournament (32 singles) — Monday-Tuesday, Sept. 19-20; Main Draw (32 singles, 16 doubles) — Tuesday-Sunday, Sept. 20-25 WHO: World-ranked women’s tennis players INFO: Free admission on Monday, Sept. 19. Tickets $15 daily from Tuesday-Friday, Sept. 20-23; and $20 from Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 24-25. (Disclosure: Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the tournament)

Nostalgia about those glory days is one of many reasons why Manasse is excited for the Berkeley Tennis Club Women’s $60,000 Challenge, where she is set to contend in the singles competition against some of tennis’ top athletes.

“This is definitely one of my favorite tournaments every year,” she said in a recent phone interview. “Berkeley is my home away from home.”

But Manasse is coming to town to do far more than reminisce.  

The 27-year-old athlete has received a wild-card slot in the tournament’s main draw for the singles bracket, where she will use her self-described “slightly complicated style of game” to battle her opponent.

“I play an all-court game with controlled aggression — that’s the easiest way to explain it,” Manasse said. “I can play more aggressively where I’m happy to come to the net and control the point, or I can be more crafty and play defensively.”

Manasse will be one of dozens of ranked international players who will compete in women’s singles and doubles matches.

Presented by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the tournament’s fourth edition kicks off Monday and runs through Sept. 25 for the singles and doubles finals.  

The club, founded in 1906 on Hillegass Avenue, moved to its current site on One Tunnel Road in 1917. The club’s pastoral Berkeley Hills setting has hosted countless memorable matches featuring old-school tennis legends such as Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Oakland’s Don Budge, and many others. 

The tournament consistently draws top-notch talent. The 2018 winner, Sofia Kenin, went on to win the Australian Open in 2020.

“This tournament presents an opportunity to watch professional women’s tennis of the highest caliber up close and personal in Berkeley’s backyard,” Brendan Curry, director of tennis at the Berkeley Tennis Club, said in an email.

The tournament, he said, “is shaping up to be the most competitive to date.” Madison Brengle, the 2019 singles champion and currently ranked 61 in the WTA rankings, and last year’s finalist Marcela Zacarias, returns to lead an “extraordinarily competitive field.”

The tennis challenge also will feature a roster of formidable local talent, such as 20-year-old Katie Volynets of Walnut Creek, who won the USTA Girls 18s National Championships in 2019 and played as a wild-card entry at the French Open in May. 

Volynets and Manasse will join other athletes at the tournament with local ties including current Cal teammates, Jessica Alsola and Valentina Ivanov, who will play in the main draw doubles bracket.

Manasse perhaps can offer advice to the pair. 

Just seven years ago, Manasse and Cal partner Denise Starr won the doubles title at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Women’s All-American Championships, the university’s first such achievement in two decades. A year later, Manasse and Starr were part of a squad that captured the ITA Women’s Team Indoor National Championship, the first in Cal tennis history.

The 2016 title remains one of the university’s biggest athletic accomplishments and Manasse counts it as one of her favorite moments as a Cal Bear. 

“There is nothing like playing as a team and fighting for every match together,” she said. “My teammates there were so great and supportive; we were all good friends.” 

Manasse now lives in Southern California, not far from where she grew up. But she is excited to return soon to play tennis in Berkeley, a place she still considers home. 

“I love the vibe there, as well as the culture and the people,” she said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be back.”

Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the Berkeley Tennis Club Women’s Challenge.

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