Former tennis pro is new La Jolla High coach

Lucia Romanov tapped to lead girls tennis team

Retired Romanian professional tennis player Lucia Romanov has faced some of the biggest names in tennis — including Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Hana Mandlíková and Martina Navratilova.

Now, as the new coach of La Jolla High School’s girls varsity tennis team, she’ll be sharing valuable insight with student athletes that she gained competing in the world’s top bouts — from the French Open to Wimbledon.

“We are thrilled to have Lucia Romanov join our coaching staff at La Jolla High School,” LJHS athletic director Paula Conway said. “Her overall knowledge of the sport and playing experience at an elite level will help our girls tennis program continue to succeed and thrive.”

And that’s just what Romanov said she intends to do — assure La Jolla continues its legacy of producing top tennis players.

“In San Diego — especially in La Jolla — you can produce amazing tennis players, and for a variety of reasons,” she told La Jolla Light.

Chief among them, Romanov said, are: the weather, allowing students to hone their skills year-round (which has also attracted an abundance of tennis pros who call San Diego home and are available to share their knowledge); copious top-quality tennis courts (“La Jolla probably has one of the highest concentration of tennis courts, per capita, in the United States,” Romanov said); and the support of top tennis booster Bill Kellogg of La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club (“People get exposed to seeing live tennis of the highest quality”).

“In San Diego players can train year-round, without interruption. That gives them a huge advantage against players who come from other parts of the country that have seasonal, limited time to play,” particularly when applying for tennis scholarships, Romanov noted.

“If a kid likes tennis, they have a chance to excel at a sport that’s going to last a lifetime,” she enthused. “You can play it when you’re 7 or when you’re 90, like (Dorothy) ‘Dodo’ Cheney,” who could be found playing La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in the years prior to her death last year, at age 98.

Romanov touts La Jolla High’s solid tennis tradition, going back to the days when Vikings boys tennis coach Russ Lanthorne (now deceased) led what Ramanov and many others still consider “the best high school team ever.”

Under Lanthorne’s leadership, the LJHS boys tennis team won 10 consecutive CIF team championships (1970-1979), with a national record of 185 consecutive wins. In 1971, his team nearly defeated University of Southern California’s collegiate tennis team.

Romanov, who first came to San Diego to compete in the Southern California Open in Balboa Park (today played at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad) counts members of LJHS’s 1971 legendary team, including greats Chico Hagey and John Holladay of La Jolla, among her personal friends.

“I hear stories about La Jolla High all the time through my friends, about the great tradition of tennis,” she said. “When this opportunity came along I was, like, OK, I’m filling some pretty big shoes here.”

Romanov’s own shoes are fairly large, having competed against some of the sport’s top names, including Martina Navratilova. “Yeah, she got me,” Romanov concedes of the defeat, with a laugh. “It was not a pretty sight. I did break a serve, which I was proud of … but I unfortunately I played her on grass.”

Conversely, recalling a match against Billie Jean King, Romanov said, “I got to beat my idol. She’s a little bit older than me, but she was still good that year at the French Open. It was on clay, which is my surface.”

King, nevertheless graciously agreed to offer her opponent some pointers, which Romanov plans to pass on to her team at La Jolla High.

“I learned how to volley late, and I still wasn’t volleying well,” Romanov recalled. “Billie Jean was probably the best (at volleying) in the world. She was so nice and willing to share. She took me on a court and showed me some exercises and some things … that I still do today.”

Romanov studied mechanical engineering via a college in her native Bucharest, while competing on the Women’s Tennis Association tour. After moving to San Diego, she earned a master of business administration from San Diego State University in marketing and entrepreneurship, going on to work in real estate development and on other small business ventures.

“Tennis was my first passion, my first love … but I wanted to try another world. I was trying to be a well-rounded person. Now that I’m retired, I’m going back to my first passion,” she said, noting that she was referred for the position by LJHS boys varsity coach, Matt Previdi, and junior varsity coach, Blair Moses.

Romanov met her team for the first time last month. “They’re such nice young ladies,” she chimed. “I was very impressed with their maturity level, and their enthusiasm for tennis — and that’s a must. If you want to play well, you have to love the sport.”

To avoid injury during matches, which can last up to three hours, Romanov said players must also possess peak overall physical conditioning. The sport requires dexterity for proper footwork and strength to deliver a powerful swing, she said.

“You’re kind of like a marathon runner,” Romanov said. “You have to have explosive muscles, as well your aerobic fitness.”

After assessing her players’ skill level, Romanov said she will work to instill a sense of “mental toughness” in her players — the ability to perform well under pressure.

“It’s grueling,” she said. “Tennis becomes very mental after a certain point. At the high school level they already have the strokes. Now you have to come up with solutions to problem-solve, find out what the weakness of your opponent is. … At some point everybody can hit balls just as good. What sets apart one player from another is the ability to rise to the occasion, to bring your best. I like to think that I can do well with them in that area.”

However, at the end of the day, she said, “Winning should be a byproduct of improving one’s skills, rather than the ultimate goal.”