Five years ago, junior Stevie Gould was idolizing the players at the Tiburon Challenger as a ballboy. But this year, it was his turn to take the court.
“Playing was a surreal experience,” Gould said. “Not too long ago, I was asking players for autographs and watching them play. Now, little kids are asking for my signature.”
On the morning of Friday, Sept. 22, Gould got an unexpected phone call during first period.
“I was sitting in my AP United States History class when I got a call from [tournament director] Brendan Curry. I was really surprised when he told me I got a wildcard spot and that I would be playing the next morning. I didn’t think I was going to get in, so I was really excited when I heard the news,” Gould said.
Curry, the director of the tournament, said he was impressed by Stevie’s desire to play and decided to give him a shot.
“Stevie really took initiative. As a wildcard, you must apply to be eligible to take part in the tournament. Stevie continued to keep in touch with me after he requested to be considered for the tournament, and when a spot opened up and his qualifications checked out, we thought it’d be a really good opportunity for him to go out and play,” Curry said.
Gould had never played in a professional tournament before and he was quickly thrown into the fire. He was tasked with playing the second ranked player in the qualifying rounds, Marcelo Arevalo, a former top 100 player in the world who played in all four major tournaments last year.
“It was crazy. I’d never played someone of that caliber and strength before. I’d practiced with some of the former players for the Cal Men’s team that were at the tournament and even the junior US Open champion who was also playing, but I’d never played against a professional. It was a profound and humbling experience,” said Gould.
Not only did Gould have a personal first on Saturday, but he also set a Tiburon Challenger record as well. According to Curry, Gould is the first high school player to ever play in the 11-year history of the tournament.
Although he felt intimidated by the track records of some of the other participants in the tournament, Gould has built a reputation for himself as well. He is currently the number one ranked player in Northern California in the under-eighteens division, number ten in California and top 50 in the nation, according to the United States Tennis Association (USTA) amateur rankings.
“These guys were seasoned veterans, and I was by far the youngest player in the tournament. Most competitors were in their mid-20s and had been playing on the circuit for a while. But when they learned who I was, they were quick to give me pointers and advice on how to approach a professional tournament and how to improve my game, and were also really impressed and complimentary of my game,” Gould said.
Even though Gould went down his first match of the qualifying, losing in straight sets to Arevalo, he still received massive support from the hometown crowd.
“Stevie had been taking lessons at the Tiburon Peninsula Club for years and when people found out that he was playing in the Challenger, many came out to support the local kid. It was a really great atmosphere and everyone was excited to come and watch a homegrown product,” Curry said.
Mary Lou Tierney, the director of ballboy operations for the Challenger, had known Gould since he was a ballboy for the tournament and was impressed by his love for the game from a young age.
“He’s always been passionate and the hardest worker on the court. Since he was little, he always tried his hardest and never complained. He’s one of the nicest young men I have ever met but also one of the fiercest competitors,” Tierney said.
Although the results didn’t turn out the way Gould hoped, he said he found many positives to take away from his experience.
“You have to be more physically and mentally tough [at the professional level], and you have to outwork your opponent and not purely rely on your talent. I know what I need to improve upon and I can’t wait for my next shot at another pro tournament,” Gould said.