Despite the increasing number of Spaniard and Latin American players in professional tennis there are no U.S.-born or raised Latinos or Latinas in U.S. tennis. Finding and developing young Latino and Latina tennis players has been a big challenge for the United States Tennis Association.
One Latino tennis coach who has been actively working to increase the Latino talent pool is Angel Lopez. Growing up in San Diego’s Mexican American barrio of Logan Heights during the early 1970s Angel Lopez never knew that Latinos played tennis until he learned about “Big” and “Little” Pancho in his high school class. His mother was from Sinaloa, Mexico and father from East Los Angeles, Lopez grew up speaking Spanish at home and English at school. Inspired by the remarkable tennis histories of Richard Gonzalez and Francisco Segura, Lopez picked up of a racket and after two years won the singles championship in La Raza Tennis Tournament.
This tournament was organized by the La Raza Tennis Association (LRTA), 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 was formed in 1974 by Bill Molina 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” tennis player and received financial backing by LRTA to travel to tournaments and take private lessons with Pancho Segura at the La Costa Resort.Lopez recalled one occasion when he was “racially profiled” driving to the exclusive tennis resort in Carlsbad, CA, and was stopped them by a policeman who did not believe that he was training under Coach Segura.
Despite the racial and class barriers that he encountered as a young Chicano from Barrio Logan, Lopez never stopped competing, winning a full tennis scholarship for the University of Arizona and playing professionally in national and international tournaments. Lopez’s greatest contribution to the sport of tennis, however, was becoming one of the United States Professional Tennis Association’s top coaches. As director of tennis operations at San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club since 1979, Lopez has coached top junior and professional players, including Alexandra Stevenson, Kelly Jones, Alejandro Hernandez and Zina Garrison. In 1994, Lopez was the head coach of the Newport Beach Dukes of World Team Tennis. More importantly Lopez has been working on and off the tennis courts to increase Hispanic participation in the sport. In 1994 Lopez was chosen as one of the top 100 Role Models by the Mexican Heritage Foundation. At the 2004 Indian Wells Tennis Tournament Lopez was recognized for his many years of service to the Southern California’s Hispanic youth and a year later was appointed by Billie Jean King to the USTA National Hispanic Participation Task Force Committee. Lopez never forgot the mission of the La Raza Tennis Association and the mentorship of Pancho Segura by founding the Angel Lopez Tennis Academy to develop young Latino and Latina tennis players.