Given the suspension of athletics in the county, the Daily Journal decided to dive 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-flight junior tennis players come from the country club, throw tantrums and slam their rackets.
Everything Menlo-Atherton High sophomore Marietta Tuionetoa does flies in the face of the tennis stereotype.
“She’s very quiet and very polite,” Bears coach Tom Sorensen said. “She’s mature beyond her years, responsible and serious about her responsibilities.”
One of those responsibilities include helping her team win. And this year Menlo-Atherton had its best season in years, finishing 17-6 and reaching the Central Coast Section tournament quarterfinals. Tuionetoa, the Daily Journal’s 2007 Girls’ Tennis Player of the Year, lost only two matches all season — the first to CCS singles champion Tayler Davis of Mitty in the section team tournament and the second playing doubles with partner Marjorie Adams in the CCS tournament doubles semifinals.
As the Bears’ No. 1 singles player, the super sophomore dominated Peninsula Athletic League play, dropping only one set in 12 league matches. Instead of playing singles in the PAL tournament, where she would’ve been an overwhelming favorite to win it, Tuionetoa decided to play doubles with Adams, who befriended Tuionetoa from the moment she tried out for the tennis team last year. The duo won the third-place doubles match in the CCS tournament.
“The highlight of my year was going back to CCS with Marjie,” she said. “Because it was Marjie’s senior year I really wanted to play doubles one more time. She really means a lot to me. She was the inspiration on the team when I first came out. I looked up to her a lot. Basically, she helped me grow up a lot.”
Tuionetoa has done a lot of growing since immigrating to America three years ago. Born and raised in New Zealand but of Tongan heritage, the 5-foot-8 Tuionetoa burst onto the Peninsula tennis scene with the force of a tsunami. Like her favorite player, Justine Henin, Tuionetoa has all the shots, from a powerful, topspin-heavy forehand to a underrated slice backhand.
“She (Henin) is everything I want to be,” Tuionetoa said.
Said Sorensen: “Marietta is well-versed in all the skills. She can play from the baseline, volleys and mixes things up with all kinds of spins and different pace. She’s quite an accomplished player very reminiscent of (former pro) Evonne Goolagong. Just smooth, effortless and a very elegant looking player. She’s always composed and never becomes ruffled.”
Only 15, Tuionetoa is driven to be the best. Instead of playing in United States Tennis Association Northern California 16-and-under tournaments, she competes in the 18s against older players, and has more than held her own. One look at Tuionetoa’s U.S.T.A. portfolio tells the story. Currently 41st in the NorCal 18-and-under rankings, Tuionetoa has lost only to two players ranked below her while beating nine players ahead of her in the standings.
It shows Tuionetoa is maximizing her talents this year and maybe even playing above her talent, the greatest compliment a player can receive. Tuionetoa, who started playing the game at 6, comes from a tennis family.
Both of Tuionetoa’s parents play, along with her brother Takai, a junior at M-A. Tennis has provided Tuionetoa with a number of blessings, most notably helping her to quickly make friends upon arriving in this country. While Tuionetoa was initially scared of leaving New Zealand, she found a new home in the M-A tennis team. And that made the transition to a new country all the more comfortable.
“Life out here is a lot different,” she said. “Because here it’s a lot bigger. I come from a small country (New Zealand is roughly three-fourths the size of California), and it was tough coming here because I didn’t know anyone except family. Going to school was hard for me, but when I came out for the tennis team, that made things easier.”
Sorensen didn’t have any idea that Tuionetoa was enrolled at the school until she arrived for the first day of practice last year. When she first stepped onto the court, 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 was here, it was a joy to coach her. When you watch Marietta play, you get a feeling it isn’t the competition that drives her. It’s something else. I compare her to a craftsman working on his skill not for any other purpose but to design something in the best possible way.
“She isn’t at all someone who needs to win or beat someone, but seemingly after something a little more elusive than that. She’s after her own sense of perfection. I don’t think she’s like your usual budding star who is driven with competitive juices, which is refreshing. She’s also a terrific team leader who is receptive to the idea of hitting with other players who aren’t nearly as talented as she is.”
Indeed, Tuionetoa doesn’t keep track of her records or ranking. As cliche as it may sound, she simply plays for the love of the game, and it shows. With a quiet determination and smile to match, Tuionetoa’s future looks as bright as her outlook.
“I believe there are loads of room and space for improvement in my game,” she said. “When I’m put up against challenges, that’s when I do my best.”
Before Tuionetoa graduates, she wants to win a CCS singles title. She’ll have two shots at that 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 happens, coaching Tuionetoa has been nothing short of heaven.
“She’s pretty much a dream,” he said. “There’s nothing to complain about.”