Locals hoping to end SoCal dominance of big event
California’s top youth tennis players will face off this weekend in a North vs. South showdown at the 29th Annual Maze Cup, to be held at the Berkeley Tennis Club.
The Maze Cup switches between sites in Northern California and Southern California each year, and this weekend is the first time the Berkeley Tennis Club has hosted the event.
Cal men’s tennis coach Peter Wright is the tournament chairman and was instrumental is luring the event to the BTC. Cup founder George Maze, Sr., was a longtime member of the club.
“We’ve been trying to get it to the Berkeley Tennis Club for the last several years, because it’s an event that really belongs here,” Wright said. “This is one of the truly great tennis venues in the country.”
The Maze Cup is made up of four divisions, with two competitors from each section in each division: boys’ and girls’ 16-year-olds and boys’ and girls’ 18-year olds. Each division will feature two singles matches and a doubles match, with the combined scores determining the overall winner in a Davis Cup format. Southern California has dominated the event, with 27 wins in 28 years.
“There’s definitely a rivalry there, but unfortunately Southern California has dominated,” said Todd Mitchell, who coaches Sasha Podkolzina of the Northern California squad. “It would be bigger for Northern California to win than Southern California, just because they have won most years.”
“Southern California is really the cradle of hardcourt tennis in this country,” event organizer Warren Daane said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize just how strong California is in tennis. I think this is the best event in junior tennis in the country.”
The names that adorn the Cup are testament to the rich history of the event. Former participants include Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, Brad Gilbert and Lindsay Davenport.
“You just have to look at the trophy and see who’s played to see what a big event this is,” Wright said. “It’s a virtual who’s who of pro tennis.”
So while the players in this year’s tournament might not be featured on ESPN just yet, there’s a good chance fans might see the next Sampras or Davenport before they hit the big time. This year’s crop includes three players who are ranked in the top five nationally: Sasha Podkolzina and Pramod Dabir from Northern California and Doug Stewart from down south.
“It’s a great level of tennis,” Wright said. “It’s just before they go off to college, and they’re blossoming as tennis players. It’s a good chance to see tomorrow’s stars today.”
Admission is free, and Daane expects a capacity crowd of near 2,000 fans. The 16-year-olds start things off on Saturday with singles matches at 10:30 a.m., with the last matches of the day starting at 4 p.m. Sunday will be a morning affair, with matches starting at 9 a.m. There will be an awards ceremony at 1 p.m. to crown the winners.