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Friendly Rivals Team Up : Bruin and Trojan Doubles Combo Make Pro Debut in Slims Tourney--No Nervousness, No Intimidation, No Experience

August 11, 1988|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Who says the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans hate each other?

Not Stella Sampras and Lupita Novelo.

Sampras plays tennis at UCLA and Novelo at USC, so during the school year they're rivals. But on Tuesday they teamed up for a professional debut in the $300,000 Virginia Slims of Los Angeles at the Manhattan Beach Country Club. Spectators flocked the walkway in front of court No. 4 where the locals appeared in the biggest tournament of their careers, thanks to a wild-card berth.

"I think they make a great combo," said USC Women's Tennis Coach Dave Borelli. "Stella is solid and very consistent and Lupita is basically the firepower. She can really put the shots away."

It was the first time both South Bay athletes played on a court with six linesmen, a chair umpire and ball boys.

They also got a taste of big-time tennis before their match when they were booted off a practice court by top-seeded Chris Evert, who was about to warm up for her doubles match with Wendy Turnbull.

Sampras and Novelo were neither nervous nor intimidated by the wealth of top-ranked players in the area's largest professional women's tennis tournament. After all, they were at home.

"I'm just glad to be here," Sampras said. "I never even dreamed I'd play in this tournament."

It was a like a fantasy come true even if the South Bay duo lost (6-2, 6-4) in the first round to seventh-seeded Ronni Reis and Lise Gregory, the powerful left-handed serve-and-volleyers who won the 1986 NCAA doubles title for the University of Miami.

"I think they're a good doubles team," Reis said after the match. "It's just that they don't have enough experience. I also think we played pretty well, though. We've been playing together for a pretty long time."

Both were All-Americans at Miami. Gregory was a four-time All-American who has been playing professionally since she graduated in 1987. Reis, who has played at Wimbledon and in the French Open, was a member of the U.S. Junior Federation Cup team for two years.

In 1987, they won the Puerto Rican Open and recently they won the California Open by defeating former Stanford All-American Patty Fendick and Jill Hetherington. They've been playing together for four years.

Sampras and Novelo have known each other that long but never played together. Rivalry is the best word to describe their tennis relationship.

Novelo, who is from Ensenada, Mexico, attended Miraleste High. Sampras went to Palos Verdes High.

In 1985, Miraleste won the CIF 4-A tennis title by defeating Palos Verdes in the final.

"Yeah," said Novelo with a Spanish accent, "I've known Stella for a long time and we get along really good even if we've always been on different teams. She's my buddy."

Novelo, 20, was a three-time singles and two-time doubles Mexican junior national champion. As a freshman at USC, she and partner Ginny Purdy defeated Fendick and Stephanie Savides to win the PAC-10 doubles title.

This past season, as a sophomore, Novelo and partner Mary Norwood beat Sampras and Allyson Cooper in a dual match at UCLA (Norwood and Cooper have since turned professional and are playing doubles together).

She considers it one of her best victories since Sampras and Cooper won the NCAA doubles title this year by defeating Reis and Jami Yonekura at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

Sampras, whose younger brother Pete plays professionally, was surprised that she won a national title as a freshman although she anticipated winning one later in her college career.

"That was like a dream too," she said. "We felt very confident, but we really didn't expect it. I know I didn't expect it."

At Palos Verdes High Sampras was a three-year Prince All-American. In 1983, she won the CIF doubles title and in 1987 she captured the CIF singles title.

But her college and high school titles combined don't add up to the excitement of participating in a high-caliber professional tournament, especially since it was in the area where she grew up.

"I think this was really great," she said after her match. "I had a good time even though they were a tough team."

Novelo agreed: "Oh yes," she said giggling as she signed a fan's autograph. "It was fun. It was real fun."

But come the 1989 collegiate tennis season, they'll be Trojans and Bruins again. That means the fun is over and the rivalry resumes.

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