Given the suspension of athletics in the county, the Daily Journal decided to dig into our 20-year archives to bring readers some of our favorite stories over the years.
DEC. 19, 2007 Contrary to popular belief, not all top-tier junior tennis players come to the country club, throw tantrums, and hit with their rackets.
Everything Menlo-Atherton High, sophomore Marietta Tuionetoa does, goes against the stereotype of tennis.
She is very quiet and very polite, said Bears coach Tom Sorensen. She is older than her years, responsible and serious about her responsibilities.
One of those responsibilities includes helping her team win. And this year Menlo-Atherton had his best season in years, finishing 17-6 and reaching the quarter-finals of the Central Coast Section tournament. Tuionetoa, the 2007 Daily Journals Girls Tennis Player of the Year, lost only two games all season, the first to CCS singles champion Tayler Davis or Mitty in the section team tournament and the second in the doubles with partner Marjorie Adams in the CCS tournament doubles semi-finals.
As the Bears # 1 singles player, the super sophomore dominated the game of the Peninsula Athletic League, dropping just one set in 12 league games. Rather than playing singles in the PAL tournament where she would have been an overwhelming favorite to win it, Tuionetoa decided to double up with Adams, who became friends with Tuionetoa from the moment she tried for the tennis team last year. The duo won third place in doubles in the CCS tournament.
The highlight of my year was going back to CCS with Marjie, she said. Since it was Marjies’s last year, I really wanted to play doubles again. She really means a lot to me. She was the inspiration for the team when I first came out. I looked up to her a lot. Actually, she helped me a lot to grow up.
Tuionetoa has grown a lot since emigrating to America three years ago. Born and raised in New Zealand, but of Tongan descent, the five-foot-long Tuionetoa burst into the peninsula’s tennis world with the force of a tsunami. Like her favorite player, Justine Henin, Tuionetoa has all the shots from a powerful topspin heavy forehand to an underrated slice backhand.
She (Henin) is all I want to be, said Tuionetoa.
Said Sorensen: Marietta is well versed in all skills. She can play from baseline, volley and mix things up with all kinds of spins and a different tempo. She is quite an accomplished player who is very reminiscent of (former pro) Evonne Goolagong. Simply smooth, effortless and a very elegant looking player. She is always calm and never confused.
Tuionetoa is only 15 years old and driven to be the best. Instead of playing in 16-and-less tournaments of the United States Tennis Association Northern California, she competes against older players in the 18s and has more than stood her ground. A look at the Tuionetoas USTA portfolio tells the story. Currently 41st in the NorCal 18-and-under rankings, Tuionetoa has lost just two players below her, beating nine players ahead of her in the standings.
It goes to show that Tuionetoa is maximizing her talents this year and perhaps even playing above her talent, the greatest compliment a player can get. Tuionetoa, who started the game at the age of 6, comes from a tennis family.
Both Tuioneto’s parents, along with her brother Takai, play a junior at MA. Tennis has brought a number of blessings to Tuionetoa, in particular by helping her make friends quickly upon arrival in this country. While Tuionetoa was initially afraid of leaving New Zealand, she found a new home on the MA tennis team. And that made the transition to a new country all the more comfortable.
Life here is very different, she said. Because it’s a lot bigger here. I come from a small country (New Zealand is about three quarters the size of California), and it was difficult to get here because I didn’t know anyone except family. Going to school was difficult for me, but when I joined the tennis team it made it all easier.
Sorensen had no idea that Tuionetoa was enrolled in the school until she arrived last year for the first day of practice. When she first stepped out onto the field, the first thing he thought was, Wow, this girl can play!
She came out for the team completely unannounced, Sorensen said. And from the moment she got here it has been a pleasure to coach her. When you watch Marietta play, you get the feeling that it’s not the competition that drives her. It’s something else. I compare her to a craftsman who works on his craftsmanship, not for any other purpose, but to design something in the best possible way.
She’s not at all one to win or beat anyone, but seemingly looking for something more elusive than that. She is looking for her own sense of perfection. I don’t think she’s your usual budding star driven by competitive juices, which is refreshing. She’s also a great team leader who is receptive to the idea of hitting with other players who aren’t as talented as she is.
Indeed, Tuionetoa does not keep her records or rankings. As cliché as it may sound, she just plays out of love for the game, and it shows. With a calm determination and a smile to match, Tuionetoa’s future looks as bright as her outlook.
I believe there is a lot of scope and room for improvement in my game, she said. When I face challenges, I do my best.
Before she graduates, Tuionetoa wants to win a CCS singles title. Shell will have two photos of this in the coming years. While it won’t be easy – the CCS has more top-ranked junior players than any other section in Northern California – Tuionetoa is looking forward to the challenge. Sorensen said no matter what, coaching Tuionetoa is nothing short of heaven.
It’s actually a dream, he said. There is nothing to complain about.