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Courting Success at Loyola : Saberon Has Yet to Lose With Her Serve-and-Volley Game

April 02, 1993|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jennifer Saberon didn't pick up a tennis racket until she was 12, but in less than a year she developed a powerful serve-and-volley game that is uncommon among women tennis players.

Saberon, a native of the Philippines and a sophomore on the Loyola Marymount tennis team, is undefeated in singles and doubles this season.

"She comes into the net on everything," Loyola Coach Jamie Sanchez said. "Very few women at the national level, at the Division I level, go to the net as much as she does."

Saberon, 24, was a serve-and-volleyer from the day she started playing tennis.

"I really liked it because I didn't find it hard," Saberon said. "It was automatic for me. After three or four months I made it to the semifinals of a junior tournament in the Philippines."

When she was 13, Saberon won a national junior tournament in her hometown of Manila, which led to a spot on the Philippine junior national team. A year later she was that country's top-ranked player in the 18-and-under division.

Saberon has been a member of the Philippine and Asian national teams. She has mostly toured Asia but also played in the junior division at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and other European tournaments.

Her best grand slam tournament finish was in 1986, when she reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in doubles. As a junior player, Saberon was ranked as high as 12th in doubles and 15th in singles in the world by the International Tennis Federation.

Although she enjoyed competing, Saberon said there was a downside.

"It was kind of hard at 15 traveling like that," she said. "It was very tiring and very lonely and I missed school. I'm 24, but I didn't really experience a lot of the things I was supposed to experience when I was growing up. It was a lot of work."

Saberon, the second-oldest of five siblings, says she planned to attend college in the United States as a youngster. Her parents encouraged it because the opportunity to excel was greater in the United States.

"Here you improve a lot because there's more opportunity," Saberon said. "You can do and say anything you want."

In 1991, she enrolled at St. Ambrose University in Iowa because her doubles partner on the Philippine national team, Sarah Rafael, played there.

Saberon and Rafael had a 25-2 record and won the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics title. Saberon went 17-2 in singles and reached the quarterfinals of the NAIA tournament.

She left St. Ambrose after one season because she disliked the cold winters and small-town atmosphere in Davenport, where the school is located.

"We practiced indoors and played indoors and it was very hard for me," she said. "My first semester I cried and missed home and I was so lonely."

Saberon contacted several schools in Southern California, in part because she has relatives in the area.

Once Saberon decided to attend Loyola, Coach Jamie Sanchez was eager to get her into the starting lineup. But Saberon had to sit out a year because of an NCAA transfer rule.

"I knew her name because she was in the NAIA championships," said Sanchez, in his 19th season as the Lion coach. "I knew who she was and the kind of player she was."

Saberon, who plays No. 1 singles, is 10-0 and 8-0 in doubles with Julie Oshiro, a Gardena High grad.

She will lead Loyola in the West Coast Conference tournament that starts today at the University of San Diego.

"Jennifer is definitely one of the best players I've had here," Sanchez said. "The best part of her game is her volley, but she's still a steady backcourt player. She has very good overall court sense."

Oshiro says all of Saberon's success does not lie in her consistent volleys and powerful serves.

"Mentally she's great," Oshiro said. "She always knows what to do and always pulls it out. She's so calm on and off the court, and she always keeps things in perspective."

Saberon, who lives with her sister in a house her parents own in Walnut, remains a member of the Philippine national team. In June she will go to Singapore to compete in the Southeast Asian Games, which are held every two years.

In 1991, when the games were held in Manila, Saberon won a gold medal in singles. Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino held a ceremony to honor Saberon.

Saberon wants to fulfill a new goal: to obtain a business administration degree from Loyola.

"This is my dream," she said. "My most important goal is to graduate from college. I'll be the first in my family to graduate from college. My parents expect me to do it and I don't want them to be disappointed."

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