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Pepperdine Senior Toes Family Line on the Tennis Court

March 12, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Staff Writer

When your younger brothers and sister are successful tennis professionals and you're the top singles and doubles player at Pepperdine University, the pressure to win is always present.

But Marisa Sanchez, an olive-skinned, dark-haired 22-year-old who speaks English with a Spanish accent as well as a flawless Castilian dialect, has learned to live with that pressure.

As the Waves' top netter, Sanchez is looked to for leadership by the women who make up the Pepperdine squad, ranked 22nd in the nation.

Perhaps that's because she's the oldest member of the squad, or perhaps it's because of her international playing experience, not to mention her successful career as an NCAA competitor.

Her career has spanned 13 years, starting in her native Spain where as a junior player she was ranked second nationally. Once she outgrew the junior European circuit, she was ranked 251st in the world among women professionals, and seventh among female pros in Spain.

In college, Sanchez has maintained a winning record (68-41) and holds school records for the most victories in a season (23 in 1984) and the most career wins.

"She's very dedicated to her game. Not only when she's on the court but 24 hours a day," said Coach Gualberto Escudero. The strongest points of Sanchez's game, said Escudero, are her drop shots and a ripping backhand.

She put those assets to work for what she calls the best match of her career in which she defeated the world's 46th-ranked player, Tina Scheuer-Larsen of Denmark. That confidence-builder took place the summer before her freshman year at Pepperdine.

"It was a great match for me, especially because Gualberto (Escudero) had to decide whether to give his last scholarship to me or an English girl," Sanchez said. "I won, so he gave it to me."

Sanchez decided to play college tennis in the United States because the Spanish Tennis Federation which sponsored her as a top-ranked junior in her native Barcelona could not continue to sponsor her after she turned 18.

"La Federacion Espanola picks only the best players in Spain, and it takes care of you while you're a junior," she said. "You get to play in pro tournaments all over Europe, but once you're 18, they don't pay anymore."

The 5-foot-6 Spaniard comes from a family known for having produced four tennis prodigies.

"The kids got into tennis by pure coincidence," said father Emilio by phone from Barcelona. "I had a job where I had to commute from Pamplona to Barcelona so I became a member of a tennis club to pass time while I was away from the family. Then the whole family started playing on weekends and Marisa and Emilio Jr. gave up swimming for tennis."

The family became obsessed with its new sport and most of the children made it their profession. But only the eldest, Marisa, elected not to turn pro.

"Whenever I go home to Spain, they can't understand that in the United States you can have both--school and tennis. So they think I've stopped playing since I'm going to school," Sanchez said.

Sanchez arrived in California three years ago with only a few high school English courses under her belt, but has learned the language well enough to pursue a business degree while her brothers and sister travel the globe on the tennis circuit.

In addition to being recognized as Spain's best tennis players, Emilio, Javier and Arantxa are achieving international recognition for their accomplishments in what started out as a family leisure activity.

Emilio, 21, is Spain's top player and ranked 16th in the world after winning the Swedish Open and other big tournaments in France and Germany in 1986. Javier, 18, made his mark in the juniors last year by sweeping the U.S. Open singles and doubles tournaments and finishing as runner-up at Wimbledon. Arantxa, 15, is the top-ranked female player in Spain with a world ranking of 121 by the Women's International Tennis Assn.

So does Sanchez feel shortchanged or stuck in school while the rest of the family is making it in the big time of professional tennis?

"Not really, because I understand that when I started playing, things were different. My sister has a better opportunity because when I played in Spain they only cared about the guys. Now they're showing more interest in the female players," Sanchez said.

But "since my whole family is pro, I always think in the back of my mind that I have to do well so I can prove that I'm good too. Sometimes it is a lot of pressure."

But there is no jealousy among the Sanchez children, and according to Ginger Helgeson, who teams with Sanchez for Pepperdine's top doubles team, trying to live up to the Sanchez tennis tradition doesn't hurt her partner.

"Marisa is pretty separated from the fact that her sister and brothers are pros and doing so good," Helgeson said. "She goes out and does her own thing."

Sanchez was referred to Escudero by Pepperdine Coach Allen Fox who had tried to recruit Emilio before he turned pro.

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