Perhaps one of the more recognizable faces at Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club during the Pacific Northwest Open is an out-of-towner with a few more notches on his belt than the rest.
Oren Motevassel, a 48-year-old former pro, is making what he estimates is his 15th stop at the PNW Open.
“I feel like over the last years he’s moving better and hitting the ball more clean now than he was five years ago,” TLTC head pro Nick Moxley said, “which just goes against all logic, especially on the tennis court.
“He’s kind of gotten to know the whole club. People look forward specifically to watch him play. Especially our members — who are in their mid-40s, mid-50s — they love coming out here to watch him beat the college kids and the younger guys. You live vicariously through him.”
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Though he’s never won a title in singles, Motevassel has been to the semifinals multiple times, has been to the finals twice and has won in doubles. This year, he’s partnered up with No. 1 seed Kyle McMorrow, who went to the finals last year.
At 48 years young, he still makes a living playing tennis.
He plays 20 to 25 tournaments per year, then spends the rest of his time in San Jose, California, giving part-time private instruction to promising 12- to 18-year-olds.
Coincidentally, his matchup Wednesday in the first round of the men’s singles, 14-year-old James Yu, fit the description of one of his students.
“As soon as I saw him, I thought, ‘I can’t lose to him, he could be my grandkid,’ ” Motevassel said. “Literally. I’m serious. He’s a very good player. (But) he’s soft. If he gets stronger, I think he’s going to be a very good.”
He defeated Yu, 6-1, 6-2. Yu, a rising freshman at Bellevue High School, said Motevassel hit a lot of different angles, and Yu noted how fast he was.
“He hits it low,” Yu said. “It’s hard to attack.”
Unlike today’s high-performance kids, who typically start playing around age 5, Motevassel didn’t pick up a racquet until age 15. Nor was he ever coached. At 17, he played in his first organized tournament.
Motevassel didn’t grow up around a lot of tennis influence. At age 20, he picked up his first tour point at an Association of Tennis Professionals tournament in his native Tel Aviv, Israel, and shortly thereafter moved to Miami, Florida, to start competing as a pro full time.
After winning his first ATP event at age 24, Motevassel climbed into the top 200 in the world, peaking at No. 161.
“From where I came from, that’s a miracle,” he said. “Starting at 15, no coaching, no means, right? When people hear that I never had coaching or sponsors, they’re shocked.”
In his years competing in Tacoma, Motevassel’s gained notoriety for playing a brand of tennis that attracts a crowd.
“The biggest thing is the playing style,” Moxley said. “Some of the top guys are big hitters, big serve, and he was all about consistency and placement.”
“I’ve seen him beat some of the best players in the area, whether they’re 21, 31 or 41 — it’s nuts. He plays with such variety, and he’s so consistent that he frustrates people to death.”
Motevassel figures his approach and maturity now would have made him a much better player had he been more knowledgeable about taking care of his body as a young pro. He knows there are no shortcuts to keeping up his fitness.
“I eat well. I just know my body,” he said. “You’ve just got to learn your body. There’s no trick that everybody can do. It’s years of experience of what works for you, it’s hard to explain all of it. But I have a healthy lifestyle, that’s for sure. You can’t just be fit, you’ve got to have a healthy lifestyle.”
Through all the years, he’s never won the PNW Open men’s singles title. Despite that, he looks at every tournament the same.
“I’m always positive,” he said. “If I come, it means I believe I can win.”
125nd Pacific Northwest Open Tennis Championships
When: Doubles begins Thursday. All finals will take place Sunday.
Where: Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club
Purse: $22,500 in total prize money. Men’s winner gets $4,000, second place $2,000. Women’s winner gets $2,500, second place $1,000. $1,000 goes to the winner of the sportsmanship award.
The main draw: UW standout and Federal Way native Mitch Stewart, the No. 2 seed, was eliminated in the first round after injury forced him to retire in the third set. Women’s singles No. 1 seed Jacqueline Cako plays at 10:00 a.m., as does No. 2 Petra Rampre. Former UW standout and Tumwater’s Kyle McMorrow, the top seed, plays Portland’s Dylan King at noon. Fourth-seed Oren Motevassel plays Jason Lui of Bellevue at 12:30 p.m. Mixed doubles start mid-afternoon.
Schedule: Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to approximately 9 p.m.; Friday, 11:00 a.m. to approximately 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to approximately 7:30 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to approximately 2:30 p.m.
Admission: Daily pass, $5; Tournament pass, $20. Free for those under age 18 and over 65.
Online: For more information, visit www.thetltc.com/pnw-open.html.