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Club Raquetas is Bringing Latino Representation to Tennis

The beginner-friendly program in Chula Vista is working to make the sport more accessible to the Hispanic community
Illustration of the Club Raquetas Chula Vista tennis club for San Diego's latino community featuring tennis players on a court
Illustration by Samantha Lacy

“Tennis is a fresa sport,” says Antonio Ley, the man behind the Chula Vista–based tennis group Club Raquetas. Fresa, meaning strawberry in Spanish, is a slang term for preppy.

“This club breaks the stereotype,” adds Ley, who is better known as el Tony Tee.

As you approach the courts where Club Raquetas practices, sounds of Spanglish and laughter mix with the smack of racquets connecting with tennis balls. Here, Ley says, it’s not only about tennis, but community and cotorreo (Spanish slang for chatter or hanging out). Though the majority of members are Latinos who live in South Bay, people of all sorts join the club’s lessons.

Latino tennis club Club Raquetas practicing at an outdoor tennis court in Chula Vista, San Diego
Courtesy of Club Raquetas

“There was a void in the Latino tennis community,” Ley says. “[Latinos] are half of California, but, as far as I know, we have one guy, Emilio Nava, who is on the tour representing us. Pro tennis has serious Mexican and Mexican-American representation problems. It’s an accessibility problem.”

To help close the gap, Ley founded the hard-court club in 2022 with the intention to introduce more Latinos to the sport. He’s the perfect spokesperson, largely because it took him some time to get into tennis himself.

See, Ley is the man behind Corazón de Torta, a popular taco truck that posts up outside breweries like Fall Brewing and Pure Project in North Park. Before launching his truck, Ley led a heavy lifestyle as an underground party promoter in Tijuana. When he became a father and was diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis in 2019, Ley changed his way of life.

“I wanted to learn something new at age 41, something athletic so my daughter could see an active father,” he says. He picked up tennis and got obsessed with it.

Latino tennis club Club Raquetas and their women's clinic practice posing for a picture on a tennis court in Chula Vista, San Diego
Courtesy of Club Raquetas

The club hosts classes on Mondays and Tuesdays at Chula Vista’s Terra Nova Park. The 7:30 p.m. meeting on Mondays is exclusively for women. “We made an all-ladies class,” Ley explains. “It’s so women could feel comfy while [learning] at their own pace. It’s called Ella Volea Sola, a pun on the Bad Bunny [lyric] ‘Ella perrea sola.’”

The $15 fee for each class goes toward paying coaches, including Latina student-athletes like Thelma Sepulveda from San Ysidro. She’s a senior at Point Loma Nazarene University on a full tennis scholarship. Another coach, SDSU senior Naomi Castillo, comes from a tennis family in Tijuana. Naomi and her sister Midori were hand-selected to be coached by one of the best Mexican tennis players ever, Tijuana’s Angélica Gavaldón, at her academy in Coronado.

“I’d love to produce the first Chicanx Wimbledon champion, but that’s not exactly what we do. We can, however, show some kid’s tía how to play and then, maybe, those kids could pick it up in the future and play on their own,” Ley says. “When I watch pro or even collegiate tennis, [Mexican-Americans] do not exist. Club Raquetas wants to help change that.”

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