October 16, 1998
By J. Fred Sidhu
As the Mexican Davis Cup tennis team lost to Colombia last month to fall to the American Zone II, the situation for professional tennis in Mexico looked bleak to say the least.
However, there is hope in the future of Mexican tennis. It comes in the name of Mariano Sanchez, a tall, handsome 20-year-old from Cuernavaca, Mexico who came to San Diego this week to play in the $50,000 HealthSouth Challenger of San Diego at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club.
Sanchez won the Mexican National Championships in December last year in his first appearance in the main draw. He defeated fellow countrymen Alejandro Hernandez in the semifinals and Marco Osorio in the final.
He turned professional in 1996 and began playing in the satellite tournaments, which are the minor leagues of pro tennis.
The soft-spoken Mexican did well enough to begin playing in the Callenger tournaments, which are a step above the satellite events.
"This year I want to break into the top 200," Sanchez says while talking about his goals. "I'm pretty close right now (coming into the Challenger of San diego, Sanchez was ranked 264 in the world) and if I do good in these Challenger, I could do it."
But as all athletes know, success doesn't happen overnight and Sanchez realizes to reach the top level in professional tennis, he must work hard. "I just go step by step and try to improve every year and hopefully I can break into the top one hundred next year," said Sanchez, who won his first two singles matches here earlier this week.
He has already been called upon to play Davis Cup for Mexico by Davis Cup captain Raul Ramirez. Sanchez played doubles with countryman David Roditi in a losing effort against the Bahamas in Guadalahara last July. He did win the last singles match in the tie after the Bahamas had clinched the victory over Mexico.
Sanchez continued his Davis Cup baptism when Mexico traveled to Colombia last month for an American Zone I relegation match. He dropped his first singles match to Mauricio Hadad, a veteran Davis Cup player for Colombia, before winning the final singles match of the tie after Colombia had clinched the win.
"It means a lot to play for your country," Sanchez notes. "It's like a dream. We had bad luck in losing to Bahamas and Colombia, but maybe we'll win one year."
Sanchez has already experienced success and failure in his tennis career. A trip to Europe saw him lose early and often in the qualifying rounds of claycourt events, a surface he admits is not his favorite, but also a surface he is working to improve on.
He has also shown flashes of how well he can play as he reached the final of the Challenger stops in Puerta Vallarta last April and last month in Quito, Eucador.
Currently on the ATP Tour Marcelo Rios of Chile and Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil are two of the biggest stars in Latin America. Don't be surprised if Mariano Sanchez joins the list.