Lester Cook makes a return en route to winning the Manhattan Beach Open tennis championship. Photo by Brad Jacobson
For Maegan Manasse and Lester Cook, the winners of the top women’s and men’s divisions of the Manhattan Beach Open, tennis greatness was so near – just one court away – and yet so far away Sunday afternoon.
As the two newly-crowned champions earned their straight-set victories on the show court in a sunken bowl under the blazing sun at the Manhattan Country Club, Maria Sharapova, ranked sixth in the world, and her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, ranked ninth in the world, practiced on a nearby court. Their presence – and concussive shot-making — gave Manhattan Beach Open of spectators a jolt of celebrity buzz and at the same time illustrated just how difficult it is even for talented players like Manasse and Cook to get to the top of the tennis ladder, where anyone ranked outside the top 100 in the world has a tough time making it into the major tournaments.
“Dimitrov, he’s on a whole different level from me, from all of us here,” said the 30-year-old Cook, who beat Andre Dome, a 23-year-old former college star at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 6-4, 6-3 to earn the $4,000 first prize. Cook retired from the ATP tour two years ago after reaching a career high ranking of 190 in the world. “I got to hit with Dimitrov this week, and it was a great experience,” he said.
Former Mira Costa standout Maegan Manasse, left, and finals opponent Ana Lorena Belmar-Osuna. Photo by Brad Jacobson
Cook was the top-ranked junior player in Southern California more than a decade ago, went on to become a three-time All American at Texas A&M, and now lives in Venice Beach and teaches tennis at the Malibu Racquet Club. He said his years on the pro tour had taught him some painful lessons.
“In every tournament, there is only one winner and everyone else ends up a loser,” he said. “So you have to be able to shake off the losses and maintain your confidence and your focus if you want to make it on the professional tour.”
For her part Manasse, the former Mira Costa star who just finished her freshman year with a stellar season at Cal Berkeley, said she often thinks about someday making it to Sharapova’s elite level.
“I dream about it all the time,” she said after a routine, 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Ana Lorena Belmar-Osuna that gave her a second straight Manhattan Beach Open title along with a $200 prize check. “I would love to have 10 hours a day to devote to tennis and training, but right now school comes first.”
Manasse earned a full athletic scholarship to Cal after winning the 2011 CIF Southern Section singles championship as a junior at Mira Costa. She compiled a 33-7 singles record in her first season at Cal.
Belmar-Osuna was the second straight friend Manasse defeated on her way to the title. In Saturday’s semifinals at Live Oak Park she easily beat Montana Morgan of Manhattan Beach, a former Chadwick star. Belmar-Osuna, the 21-year-old No. 2 seed, is from Guadalajara, Mexico, but used to spend summers training in Palos Verdes. Manasse and Belmar-Osuna practiced together as juniors, but both said this was the first time they had played each other in a tournament match.
Playing Sunday’s finals at the Manhattan Country Club after the first three days at Live Oak Park proved to be an inspired decision. Not only did the spectators get to ogle Sharapova, Dimitrov and his hitting partner, former top-ten player James Blake, but they got to enjoy the club’s luxurious facilities and the top-notch food and beverages offered by the snack bar.
Tournament Director Bennet Slusarz said he was grateful for the opportunity to conclude the City of Manhattan event at the country club.
“It was a phenomenal ending to a great event, and we thank the club’s owner, Keith Brackpool, for making the decision to let us use their facilities,” Slusarz said. “There were no financial considerations. This was strictly a courtesy on their part.”