ANGEL LOPEZ CONTINUES TO SHARE HIS DEEP PASSIONCOMMUNITY NEWS | USTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
FOR TENNIS WITH THE HISPANIC COMMUNITY
FOR TENNIS WITH THE HISPANIC COMMUNITY
OCTOBER 6, 2023 | STEVE PRATT
ANGEL LOPEZ CONTINUES TO SHARE HIS DEEP PASSION FOR TENNIS WITH THE HISPANIC COMMUNITYCOMMUNITY NEWS
USTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
OCTOBER 6, 2023
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Angel Lopez was born and raised in San Diego’s Logan Heights area playing all the traditional sports his friends took part in – soccer, baseball and he even ran cross country for Montgomery High School in the early-1970s.
Tennis was hardly a consideration for Mexican-Americans like Lopez, who moved to South San Deigo at age 13. He said the conditions were less than ideal with steel nets and weeds always growing from the cracks in the courts.
“You’d have all these different lines on the courts because they were shared with the basketball nets,” Lopez recalled recently. “When I grew up very few Hispanics played tennis. But I’m a twin and my brother was on the tennis team so my senior year I thought I’d try it out.”
Lopez has also learned in one of his classes about a guy named Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez, who at one point in his career had been the No. 1 tennis player in the world.
“Wow, he grew up in the barrio and he’s been No. 1 in the world?” Lopez said he recalled thinking. “Then I see Pancho Segura and he’s coaching the world No. 1 Jimmy Connors. These guys looked like me.”
And so, Lopez was inspired to give the game a shot. “Once I picked up that racket, I fell in love with the sport.”
Lopez recently spent an afternoon at the Barnes Tennis Center doing what he has done for the past 40 years – giving back to the Latin community at a special Hispanic Heritage Month celebration put on by USTA Southern California.
Clinic participants included players from Calexico High School and other low-income schools in the Imperial Valley, which Lopez aids by donating equipment through his Angel Lopez Tennis Academy and by giving scholarships with the help of Youth Tennis San Diego and the San Diego District Tennis Association for Hispanic Youth.
It was through a similar but now disbanded group – La Raza Tennis Association formed in 1974 by Bill Molina – where Lopez was able to get the coaching from the famed Segura he needed to become a top collegiate and future pro player.
According to a website post by Jose Alamillo, La Raza was a non-profit organization whose mission was to “foster and develop the game of tennis in San Diego County, to encourage development and participation of promising young players of the Spanish-Speaking Community.” LRTA’s goal was to “expand the interest and enjoyment in the game of tennis among the Chicano community and help develop the young tennis talent.”
In 1976 Lopez was considered the “community’s up and coming tennis star” and received financial backing by LRTA to travel to tournaments and take private lessons with Segura at the La Costa Resort.
“If it wasn’t for tennis and people like Bill Molina, I’d still be living in that same neighborhood I grew up in,” said Lopez, who recently turned 68. “I think it’s important for us to introduce the game to the Hispanic community. I think if you just give them a taste of the sport, they’ll fall in love with it.”
Lopez went on to play at San Diego City College winning the Community College Doubles title at the prestigious Ojai Tournament with partner Todd Harvey. That led to a scholarship at the University of Arizona. The next few years he visited countries around the world, winning tournaments in South Africa and coaching the likes Zina Garrison, Kelly Jones, Angelica Gavaldon and Alexandra Stevenson at all the Grand Slams.
“I saw the world through tennis,” said Lopez, who has worked at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club since 1979 and became Director of Tennis in 1986. He still teaches eight to 10 hours a day on court and was instrumental in developing the game of a young Brandon Nakashima.
A San Diego District Tennis Association Hall of Famer, Lopez said he looks forward to sharing his passion for the game of tennis to people who might never have bene exposed to the game.
“I’m just so glad to be a part of an event like this,” he said. “These kids remind me of me.”