Sage makes it 'chulísma'

NEWPORT BEACH — Elisa Martinez Garcia turned 14 years old Thursday, and she celebrated that birthday with two distinct groups of friends.

There are the other four young tennis players from Spain, with whom Garcia traveled to Newport Beach.

Then there is the Sage Hill School tennis program. Some of those players were on hand to sing Garcia "Happy Birthday" as well at The Tennis Club Newport Beach, and there was a birthday cake.

It's the first time Garcia has been to the United States. She doesn't speak much English, but she needed just one word in Spanish to describe her trip to California so far.

"Chulísima," Garcia said, which loosely translates to "unbelievable" or "really cool."

The Sage Hill summer tennis training has been cool. The Lightning have played host to Garcia and the rest of the Spanish contingent. They came over with Pascual Maroto, director of the Tahoe Tennis Academy of Mallorca, Spain. Mallorca may sound familiar — it's the area where world No. 2 tennis player Rafael Nadal is from.

"He's from a village called Manacor, very close to us," Maroto said. "As a kid, 12-and-under, he played my tournament, but he got good after 14. He started winning local tournaments and the Spanish LTA [Lawn Tennis Assn.] invited him to Barcelona. He became good and began to go out of Spain to other countries to play."

Maroto is a member of the LTA in Mallorca. He has traveled around the world as a tennis coach. Yet he was at home when he met Newport Beach resident John Fowler, who Sage tennis coach A.G. Longoria said is a former officer in the Navy.

"[Fowler] was stationed in Mallorca," Longoria said. "When the carrier was in port, he would go over to the club and play. [Fowler and Maroto] got to be very, very good friends."

Longoria heard about the academy in Mallorca and saw a good opportunity for his Lightning to train with the Spanish contingent. They've been training together this week at The Tennis Club, from 1-3 p.m. and also from 5-7 p.m., and will continue next week. They've been doing drills and playing singles and doubles sets. The Spanish players have also been playing sets against members of the Dent Tennis Academy. On Thursday, Andrea Garcia Fernandez played a set against Jacqueline Pelletier of Huntington Beach.

Each Spanish player is staying with a Sage Hill tennis family. The lone boy from Spain on the trip, Cosme Jubera Munde, 14, is staying with incoming Sage senior Alex Manolakas. Last weekend, they went to check out the U.S. Open of Surfing, and Munde has also been skateboarding.

The Spanish kids have also already been taken to Disneyland and watched the latest "Harry Potter" movie at the Irvine Spectrum.

"The kids are really bonding and they're having a lot of fun," Longoria said. "They'll make life-long friends. They'll be tweeting and e-mailing and texting each other. For example, tonight, one family is inviting the girls over for pizza and to watch a movie."

They also visited Hollywood, which Claudia Luis Villalonga, 12, insisted on. She wanted to see the stars on the Walk of Fame of her favorite actors, Johnny Depp andPenelope Cruz.

Villalonga, who is also from Mallorca, isn't really a tennis player. She sees herself more as a future actress. She wouldn't mind being as popular as "Rafa" one day.

"I started tennis four months ago because they told me I would come to California," said Villalonga, who speaks English with just a slight Spanish accent. "It was my dream, so I started playing tennis …I want to have like 10 Oscars and my own star [on the walk of fame]."

The tennis has been good. Garcia is a top girls' player from the La Rioja province of Spain.

"She is the champion of her county," Maroto said. "This is where they grow the best wine in Spain. Her father is the pro at the tennis club, La Rioja Calahorra."

Longoria said Munde has been a solid boys' player and has not lost any of his sets so far. A couple of days ago, he even got an opportunity to hit against Taylor Dent, a former pro who once starred at Corona del Mar High.

"They all seem like they're having a ton of fun," said Sage Hill incoming junior Sam Sherman, a transfer from Minnesota. "It'd be really cool to go to a different country to play tennis."

The Lightning may also get that opportunity. Maroto said he'd like to host the Sage Hill players in Spain as well.

But, for now, the Sage Hill players are enjoying the company of their new Spanish friends before they leave Aug. 20. They'll go to Knott's Berry Farm on Saturday. On Sunday, it's more shopping down in La Jolla.

Longoria said the tennis training should help his girls' team, which advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship match in 2010, as it gets ready for the new season. The Sage girls' team tryouts begin Monday.

Longoria, laughing, said he wishes the Spanish players didn't have to leave so soon.

"Now all I need to do is get them eligible to play for me," he said. "Then I can win the CIF championship every year. I'll just import them from Mallorca."

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World