By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
Being a house guest of Chris Evert in Boca Raton, Fla., is a long way from Modesto, Calif., where 22-year-old Maria Sanchez grew up a normal kid in the Central Valley town, picking up the game of tennis at age 10 and attending public high school before starring at USC for four years, where Sanchez was a three-time All-American and the National Senior Player of the Year in 2011.
Sanchez’s 2012 season has been anything but normal in her rookie year on the women’s professional circuit, which has seen her rise in the world rankings from No. 687 to a career-high 225.
Playing before family and friends, Sanchez recently captured her first $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit Challenger title last month with a three-set win over 18-year-old Jessica Pegula, Michael Joyce’s new protégé, in the final of the FSP Gold River Women's Challenger in Sacramento, Calif., just up the 5 Freeway from her parents’ home.
Sanchez missed out on the USTA French Open wild card to Melanie Oudin by one spot and elected not to travel to Europe for the summer. Instead, she stayed at Evert’s and trained.
She recently took time out to answer a few questions.
Question: When did you first meet Chris Evert?
Maria Sanchez: It was during World TeamTennis last summer. From there, we just kept in contact, and she invited me to come train at her academy in December. I really liked it, so I’ve been coming more and more. It’s really been like a second home for me and a place where I can go and train in between tournaments. Great training, great coaching, and Chrissie has really been a great mentor and coach and really helpful to me.
Q: What does she like about your game?
MS: She’s told me I have all the shots and that I can do a lot of different things on the court. She just says I have a lot of potential and that I’m just a little raw still and that I need to get more experience playing matches. She likes my variety and my game and the different things I can do on the court.
Q: Who’s responsible for all those great photos you’ve had posted on your Facebook fan page?
MS: That’s all my agent (Jordan Butler of Agent Atleta). I’m not a big fan of the cameras and all that, but he suggested a shoot, and it turned out fine.
Q: I see you on Twitter, too (@MariaVS10). Do you like tweeting?
MS: I’m not very big into it, but sometimes I go on, and I’ll tweet at Chrissie or Billie Jean King. It’s nice that they’ve mentioned me, and it just shows they care.
Q: Are you looking forward to your first full season with Springfield in World TeamTennis?
MS: Yeah, I got picked up by Springfield after the St. Louis franchise folded. I’ve just heard great things about it, and I think we’ll do pretty well. I love the team format. Coming from USC and college tennis and now being on my own, it’s nice to take a break from that and be on a team. It’s just a more fun atmosphere. But it’s still intense and still really good for my tennis because I’m playing good players. It’s fun playing the night matches and having people come out and cheer for you. Playing with the guys is great, too, and watching the doubles and playing mixed.
Q: The USC men have won four straight NCAA titles. How close are the Lady Trojans from winning an NCAA title next season?
MS: They got very close this year, making it to the final four. They had a young team, and next year, the freshman will be that much better. They’re hungry, and they want it. The coaches want it, too. I think they’ll win it all next year.
Q: We saw that your former assistant coach, West Nott, teamed with Ali Ramos to win the US Open National Playoffs USTA Southern California mixed doubles playoff and will now play nationals for a spot in the US Open main draw.
MS: Yeah, that was exciting. He’s still a really good player and hits with all the girls. I don’t think he’s missed a step. He’s quick and really good, and Ali’s a great doubles player, so I think they’ll do well.
Q: Toughest player you’ve faced on Tour?
MS: Wow, that’s tough. There have been so many good players. It’s hard to single out just one. I don’t think one has stood out as being a lot better than all the others ones. It’s tough to name just one.
Q: Most fun city you’ve been to?
MS: I would say Indian Harbour in Florida, a $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event. It’s in a small beach area, and this whole town just got really fired up for this tournament. They had night matches, and the three courts were all pretty much stadium courts. They had happy hour every night, and so the crowds were always really loud and into the matches. It just made it really fun.
Q: What did you do to celebrate your first $50,000 win in Sacramento last month?
MS: Not much. I had to jump on a plane a few hours later to get to a $50,000 in El Paso, so I didn’t have much time to celebrate. But my parents and some friends were there, so I got to hang out with them.