Rancho Valencia is well known for its tennis club, and as an avid player, I wanted to experience it for myself. There are 14 Plexipave and two European clay courts (along with four pickleball courts) and 10 busy pros. I booked what turned out to be the best — and longest — private lesson I’ve ever had. The clinic I’d signed up for had no other people in it, so I got an hour and a half with the tennis director all to myself. Working with Eduardo Sanchez was a pure delight. He’s been at Rancho Valencia for 32 years, since the club opened, and it was easy to see why: His enthusiasm for the game is contagious. I was motivated to play better just by seeing him lift his fist and then bellow “Yes!” when I hit a good shot.
Talking to him courtside, I learned about his life and inspirational backstory. He started working in hotels as a bellman but had grown up loving the game of tennis in Tecate, Mexico, hitting against a backboard because there were no public courts in the city. While working at Rancho La Puerta, in Tecate, he would use his lunch breaks to watch the English-speaking pro give lessons, and eventually he started teaching there. One day, a woman from La Jolla, California, suggested that he come to Windermere to teach the Spanish-speaking clients. His lessons quickly caught on. As a result of this success, he decided to apply for a position at Rancho Valencia, but when he went to drop off his résumé — with its 43 letters of recommendation — he couldn’t find the resort because it was still under construction. That’s when, he says, “the little angel on my shoulder told me: ‘Turn around, Eduardo.’” Fortunately, he followed this guidance and found the resort, along with his future.
In 2004, he created the Sean Eduardo Sanchez Tennis Center in Mexico, a nonprofit named in honor of his late son, which helps juniors access lessons, equipment and transportation to tournaments. It was through this initiative that he fulfilled his dream of building the first two public courts in Tecate.
I came away that day with a list of tips that in all my decades of competitive play no one had ever given me. From Sanchez, I received coaching that has enhanced my game significantly — something I wouldn’t expect at most resorts. As I left the court, staff from the pro shop greeted me with a protein shake. This was a first-class experience in every respect.