Coach Amanda Augustus leads by example

photo of Amanda Augusta
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Amanda Augustus started playing tennis against her garage wall. While that was a notable opponent, she eventually progressed to playing on actual courts with real players on the other side of a net. A world top-100 doubles ranking, 20 professional tournament wins and all four Grand Slams later, she continues her tennis career as Cal women’s tennis head coach.

“My parents got tired of me hitting into the garage, so then I went to actual tennis courts … and here we are,” Augustus said on her lunch break from coaching a tennis summer camp for kids at Cal’s own Hellman Tennis Complex.

Having started playing tennis aged 7, Augustus was a very active child who also enjoyed golf, soccer and dance. It wasn’t until she arrived at Cal for college in the fall of 1995 that she fully committed herself to one sport: tennis.

Before coming to Cal, Augustus trained at a club in Southern California. Having a regular school experience while training, she said, was one of the perks of playing at a club rather than an academy. Another was all of the world-renowned tennis players Augustus got to see in action.

“We had a lot of really famous people at my club like Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport. I was fortunate, we had tons and tons of really successful players at my club to look up to, and there were always plenty of people to practice with,” Augustus said.

At college, Augustus became one of the most successful players in the history of Cal women’s tennis. Alongside her doubles partner Amy Jensen, the athletes won back-to-back NCAA doubles championships in 1998 and 1999.

“We won the first NCAA championship in women’s tennis (at Cal). They’d had people in the final before, but making history and winning … that was a big deal,” Augustus said. “That was a special one.”

Augustus always knew that she wanted to play tennis professionally on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour after graduating from Cal. Her goal had been to play in the main draw of all four Grand Slam tournaments: the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

She succeeded.

The Australian Open was her favorite as a player, due to the popularity of the sport in the country and the corresponding star treatment of players. Other majors have their benefits, though. The speed of the grass at Wimbledon suited Augustus’ game well, and the U.S. Open helped players get Broadway tickets.

Looking beyond her professional career, Augustus didn’t always aspire to be a coach. An economics major, she kept her options open. Even when she started coaching, she was getting her MBA from the Haas School of Business at the same time.

“My coach Jan Brogan, who I took over for when she retired, I always thought she had a cool job,” Augustus said. “I didn’t necessarily want to sit behind a desk all day.”

Augustus’ first coaching job was at Whittier College, a division III school in Los Angeles, coaching both the men’s and the women’s teams. Since then, aside from briefly being interim Cal men’s tennis head coach in 2021, Augustus has only coached women. Working at Michigan before turning to her alma mater Cal, Augustus noted that there aren’t many opportunities for women to coach men’s tennis at the division I level.

Having experienced the ups and downs of being a Cal student-athlete firsthand, Augustus emphasizes the importance of academics as well as succeeding in the sport.

“It’s part of why I do what I do, because when I came out of college, it was very unusual for someone to become a top-100 pro and hav(e) graduated from college,” she explained. “I’m most proud of our 100% graduation rate, because that’s really, really important here.”

Olivia Hauger, who graduated from the program in 2019, remarked that what solidified her choice on her visit was Augustus and her priorities as a coach.

“I feel super fortunate to be able to be on the team with Amanda (Augustus) as the head coach. She’s a great leader,” Hauger said. “She’s also been through exactly what the girls on the team have been through because she was a player at Cal herself, so she’s been through the rigorous academics there and the national championship mindset that she embodies as a leader and a coach.”

Perhaps it is not a coincidence, then, that under Augustus, Cal women’s tennis has been immensely successful, winning multiple championships and maintaining consistently high, often top-10, national rankings.

Aiming to bring her knowledge and expertise from playing on tour into her coaching, Augustus hopes to be able to advise her players on their careers beyond collegiate tennis. She thinks that playing professionally is akin to any other first job, so it’s important for her that the athletes realize what goes on behind the scenes of professional tennis.

A major benefit of college tennis the way it is set up in the United States is that it is a path to the professional tour. While not the only route, it is one of ways tennis players can kick-start their careers.

“There’s a new group coming in, and on the women’s side it’s been cool to see, there’s a pretty big group of American women that have risen and are stepping into where Serena and Venus (Williams) and Sloane (Stephens) were,” Augustus said. “We have a good system, and college tennis is part of that system to have great American pros.”

There have been a number of professional tennis players that have come out of collegiate tennis. Augustus highlighted Danielle Collins and Jennifer Brady, with both players — the former a graduate of the University of Virginia and the latter of UCLA — becoming Australian Open finalists and reaching career-high rankings of eight and 13 respectively.

“We’re part of the pathway to the pro tour,” Augustus said of college tennis. “There’s so much that teaches you, and it’s also just the life skills, because when you turn pro, it’s a job and a business, and if you’re not ready to go, you’re not going to do very well at it, even if you’re good in tennis.”

That American players are given the wild card into the U.S. Open as NCAA champions, Augustus said, is a tremendous platform for rankings and a springboard for athletes’ careers.

However, Augustus thinks there’s still a way to go for women, both in tennis and other sports, to be recognized and treated as equals. Female tennis players are some of the highest-paid female athletes in the world, yet male tennis players still earn more for the same job and success level.

This also extends to female coaches.

“I want to see more female coaches stay in the sport because it’s important, but it can be challenging at times — manag(ing) having a family and working and doing everything that’s required. We’re not quite there yet,” Augustus said. “So I just really hope that conversation continues to happen.”

Combining her experiences as a student athlete, from playing on the professional tour and 15 seasons of coaching at Cal, Augustus hopes to help those she coaches become not only excellent players, but well-rounded people. With a 250-83 coaching record going into this past season, and having coached many successful athletes, what Augustus prizes about her job is how it changes.

“It’s definitely a process and it changes all the time, because the world changes and the student-athletes change. It’s nice because it’s definitely not the same thing every day or every year,” Augustus said. “It’s more fun than other jobs because it’s not the same.”

Maria Kholodova covers women’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].