Text by Marah Eakin
Images by Cody James
Pickleball’s star is on the rise, and so is the profile of Matt Manasse. Thanks to the interest in one of the fastest growing sports, Manasse has become Hollywood’s go-to-guy at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, coaching comedian Larry David, Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel, and United Talent Agency co-founder Jim Berkus. His nickname is “Pickleball McNasty” to many of his clients, including “Entourage” creator Doug Ellin, himself a pickleball enthusiast, and regularly makes house calls to train people at their multi-million dollar L.A. mansions. Not bad for a game much of America only started hearing about over the last two years.
A blend of badminton, tennis, and ping pong, pickleball is a game that can be played by pretty much anyone, from ages eight to 80. It’s easy to pick up, doesn’t require a wide range of movement or much exertion, and can quickly get competitive. It’s also on the come up, with a 2021 Sports & Fitness Industry Association report estimating that 4 million active “picklers” pick up a racket at least once a year, a number that represents a 21.3 percent increase from the number of players in 2019.
Though he’s a pro now, Manasse himself only found the sport when he was stuck at home during the early days of pandemic lockdowns. A former collegiate tennis player turned professional coach, Manasse was working with tennis pro Shelby Rogers when the pandemic shut down the WTA Tour.
Finding himself out of a job, he returned to his hometown of Erie, PA, where, looking for a little exercise and excitement, he looked up his old tennis buddies only to find that they’d all switched over to pickleball. He gave it a try and quickly became enamored. “I was home alone with nothing to do,” says Manasse. “I got into [pickleball], and kind of became obsessed. It was my escape during the pandemic when there was nothing going on.”
With his competitive tennis background, Manasse quickly outpaced his Erie peers in terms of pickleball skills. One day, while he was clicking around online, he happened upon a video of one of his old friends, who’d since become a pickleball coach in Florida. “I saw videos of him playing with top pros and I felt like I could hang,” Manasse says. He quickly found himself in Florida teaming up with Pickleball Pro Ryan Sherry for an upcoming tournament.
“We trained for a week and then I ended up going to a clinic with the No. 1 [ranked] woman in the world and No. 1 [ranked] guy in the world: Simone Jardim and Ben Johns,” says Manasse. “I actually stayed with them during the clinic, which would be like if, three months into playing tennis, I was able to go to camp with Roger Federer and Serena Williams and live with them for the week while they were teaching me.”
After the tournament, Manasse came out to California, where he ended up playing with Ellin and Tennis Pro Sam Querrey.
Manasse says meeting Ellin and others convinced him he could make the move to L.A., where he quickly focused on The Riviera because of his familiarity with the club. “I remember one of the first mornings we drove in we almost hit Mark Wahlberg. He got out of the car and took pictures with my whole team and was really nice. It was like, ‘This club is where everyone’s at. This is where people make things happen.’”
Noticing the club didn’t have a pickleball program yet, Manasse pitched one to management, who took the bait. He says The Riviera is “a nice place to be every day” — a suggestion that’s perhaps an understatement given the almost 100 year old club’s sterling reputation, lush grounds, exclusive clientele, and spot on the PGA Tour.”
Manasse says the Riviera’s clientele has also embraced him. “It’s funny,” he says. “A year ago, if you told me these are the circles that I’d be running around with… Now, in a way, it seems normal. I consider a lot of my students to be friends, to be honest.”
One of those groups has come to hold a special place in his heart. Dubbed “The Sunday Crew,” the group’s heavy-hitting roster is composed of Larry David and his wife Ashley Underwood; “There’s Something About Mary” producer Bradley Thomas and his wife Izzy; Berkus and his wife Ria; Emanuel and his fiancée Sarah Staudinger, and producer Joel Silver, who prefers to watch.
“I think the husbands used to just play golf and then the women were left behind,” he says. “This is something they found they can all do together.”
Manasse says he’s especially impressed with the group’s camaraderie, despite Jim Berkus and Emanuel’s status as heads of opposing talent agencies. “The fact that these two power figures can come together on a Sunday and play… Pickleball brought them together. That’s pretty special.”
Sidebar: Manasse’s tips for pickleball beginners.
- Know ”The Kitchen.”
- Manasse says one of the first things he teaches novices is to stay out of “The Kitchen,” the part of the court closest to the net where pickleball players are forbidden from even touching the ball.
- Pony up for a paddle.
- While he acknowledges the allure of cheap pickleball sets on Amazon, Manasse says anyone semi-serious about the game should be prepared to spend at least $75 on a paddle.
- Ignore the details.
- Manasse says players should learn to enjoy the sport before getting into “the nitty gritty strategy of the third shot drop and topspin roll and the dink and all that stuff.”
The Riviera Country Club is located at 1250 Capri Drive Pacific in Pacific Palisades; therivieracountryclub.com