One girl would go on to become one of the greatest women’s tennis players of all time. The other barely understood the rules.
It was 1989, or maybe 1990, and Venus Williams was competing in the 10-and-under bracket at the annual Dudley Cup tournament in Santa Monica.
Her opponent was a local kid who now goes by the name of Marissa Irvin Gould, who didn’t have a customized racket or a father videotaping her games, who never thought she would also become a professional tennis player.
“She was a lot taller and a lot better,” Gould said, recalling her childhood match against Williams. “I remember feeling very overmatched. … She was a lot better than everyone else. I barely really knew how to keep score. I had no idea tennis was going to be my profession. It wasn’t on my radar.”
It’s a match that triggers Gould’s memory about her upbringing in Santa Monica. And as the Dudley Cup prepares to celebrate its centennial this weekend and next, Gould is taking the opportunity to reflect on the tennis career whose seeds were planted in the beachside city years ago.
Now a teacher, author and mother based in the Bay Area, Gould was born at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica and quickly took to tennis despite her brutal initiation against Williams. She worked to become one of the top youth talents in Southern California, developing her skills during her time at Harvard-Westlake School before continuing her tennis pursuits in Division I at Stanford.
The roots of her professional career had been established.
“I was very big into getting trophies,” she said. “I always loved individual sports because I loved the idea that you control your own destiny. … As I kept progressing, it was more and more of a viable option. It just seemed like the natural progression of things.”
That progression included Gould’s tour on the Women’s Tennis Association circuit. She competed in 22 Grand Slam events during her approximately 6-year career, climbing to No. 51 in the world rankings in 2002. (She never faced Venus Williams as a pro, but she did compete against Serena.)
Gould recalled playing Monopoly with the Williams sisters as they passed time during a long rain delay at the US Open in the early 2000s.
“No shock – Venus and Serena were both dominant, even in Monopoly,” she said. “But it was definitely our friendship that started in [Southern California] juniors that led to Monopoly in the players’ lounge.”
Gould’s career as an author started while she was on the pro tennis circuit, when she often filled downtime by writing. After retiring from the sport in 2005 she earned a master’s in education from Pepperdine University and became an elementary school teacher, moving to the Bay Area in 2010 after giving birth to two of her three children at Saint John’s.
Gould decided to write a children’s book that would promote athletics for boys and girls while introducing them to the sport to which she dedicated her early life.
“I’d go to the library and would never be able to find kids’ books about tennis,” she said.
“A Magical Racquet Ride” was released in 2014, and Gould did a book signing at the US Open that year. She said the book has reconnected her to the tennis world she entered at the Dudley Cup decades ago.
“It’s been a fun journey,” she said.