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TENNIS / JULIE CART : This Sampras Sets Sights on Being a Coaching Leader

October 15, 1995|Julie Cart

Having taken over a program in 1972 that was an intramural afterthought, shepherded it through its elevation to an intercollegiate sport and eventually to national recognition, Bill Zaima is stepping down as coach of UCLA's women's tennis team after this season.

Replacing him will be assistant coach Stella Sampras, whom Zaima has been grooming for the last few years.

Zaima will coach the team this season, then take an administrative position in student services at UCLA. It will be his second stint as an administrator. He coached the women's tennis team from 1972-76, took an administrative job, then began coaching again in 1986. Even with a 10-year break, though, 15 years of coaching are enough for Zaima.

"It's been brewing in my mind for a long time," he said. "I love the coaching on the court, but there's so much more. I'm ready to move on and Stella is ready to do this. She's the new breed of coach."

Zaima leaves behind a healthy financial base. Under his guidance, the women's tennis program has been able to endow two scholarships to augment the six scholarships underwritten by UCLA's athletic department.

The selection of Sampras ensures continuity in the program. Not only has she been coaching at UCLA for four years, she was also the captain of the team and an NCAA champion, in doubles with Allyson Cooper in 1988.

"The school means a lot to me," she said. "The program means a lot to me."

Sampras said she will stress the team over the individual, an often unfamiliar concept in the tennis world.

"I really want to get the team championship back where it's supposed to be," Sampras said. The Bruins last won a national title in 1981, the spring before women's collegiate sports were taken in by the NCAA.

"We've always had great individual players. I want to focus on the team. I want to recruit team players. One person can destroy the chemistry of a team. The entire team suffers and I don't want that to happen."

Like Zaima, Sampras said her wish is to recruit only American players, even as talented Eastern Europeans are flooding the college ranks. Still, Sampras has quickly learned coach-speak. "I won't rule it out," she said of recruiting foreign players.

At 26 and naturally reserved, Sampras does not command instant respect through age or demeanor. She has learned, though, to temper her inclination to give players the benefit of the doubt in disciplinary matters and is secure that her experience will sustain her credibility with players, many of whom are only a few years younger.

"I played in juniors, I played in college and I played on the [Women's Tennis Assn.] tour," Sampras said. "I also think I can relate to them better than a male coach. They can never tell me, 'Oh, Stella, you don't know how it is.' I do know how it is."

Sampras spent a year on the pro circuit before the grind of living out of suitcase drove her back to Los Angeles, looking for work. Although she is frequently referred to as Pete Sampras' sister, Stella Sampras set out to establish herself as a college coach, not a famous sibling.

"I guess I could have gone out and followed Pete around and lived off him," she said, laughing. "But I wanted to coach. Here I am, now. I feel really good about this, I'm ready."

*

The WTA tour finally has found a title sponsor--the Corel Corp., a Canadian software giant--after two years of going without one.

The deal was brokered by WTA consultant-agency IMG. Many will remember IMG as the outfit that mounted what tennis officials perceived as a hostile takeover of the tour not so long ago. Thus, its selection as the tour's international marketing consultant was somewhat controversial.

Whatever animosity lingers, at least IMG has delivered a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal to the WTA, something its previous consultant was unable to do.

*

The top 32 collegiate women singles players will participate in the Riviera All-American Tennis Championships starting Tuesday at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. Keri Phebus of UCLA, the NCAA champion and current national No. 1 player, heads the list of entrants. Singles and doubles qualifying begins Tuesday, with the finals next Sunday.

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