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Culture Shock

WILL SEBERGER/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Sophomore Roger Matalonga returns a ball during Friday's match against Stanford. Matalonga is a native of Spain who was transferred to the Arizona tennis team.
By Roman Veytsman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
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Spaniard Matalonga adjusts to life far from home as he leads UA men's tennis renaissance

On the court, Roger Matalonga is known for his quickness. It's one of the attributes that have made him a star on the best men's tennis team Arizona has had in years.

But he hasn't always adjusted so quickly off the court, especially after being transplanted from Spain to Tucson, with a quick stop in Texas.

"It was a culture shock," Matalonga said. "I had to learn how to interact with people who have another culture.

"Food was a big deal for me. I didn't know where to go to eat."

Matalonga began playing tennis at the ripe age of seven. He also began playing hockey, which he said gave him the toughness he exemplifies in his matches. He began to concentrate strictly on tennis when he was 16 and was discovered by a Texas assistant coach playing in an ATP event in France.

After he traveled to Texas but failed to qualify academically, Matalonga was urged by the Longhorns' coach, who had ties to the Wildcat coaching staff, to consider Arizona. Matalonga lived in Texas for three months, adjusting to life in the United States and facing the language barrier as well as academic obstacles. He decided to come to Arizona, but struggled academically his first semester.

"I liked the weather," Matalonga said. "I liked almost everything. But school was really hard for me. My GPA was below 2.0 my first semester."

Meanwhile, Matalonga drew rave reviews from the coaching staff for being a hard worker, and he had a lot of success on the court. This season, he has become the No. 64 player in the nation and has won 20 matches - a feat that was last accomplished by senior Whi Kim in 2002.

"It's a good sign for me," Matalonga said. "I'm proud of myself and the way I've played. It's a tribute to the coaching staff and their work. I've been working really hard, too."

Matalonga tries to pattern his game after fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero and his quickness along the baseline, but he also tries to emulate the skills of others.

"I try to learn from everybody," he said.

His dedication to tennis has served him well academically, too. His work ethic and focus earned him a 3.25 GPA last semester.

"I was more focused on my studies," Matalonga said. "I worked really hard and I knew how the university worked and its structure. My teammates helped me a lot. I tried to take in everything positive."

A month ago, thinking positively was very tough as Spain was terrorized by a train bombing that killed hundreds. With his entire family in Spain, Matalonga was worried and scared.

"It was kind of hard," he said. "I wish I could have been there with them. It was weird playing tennis when my country was crying."

His family, unharmed in the attacks, encouraged him afterward, telling him he has an opportunity they didn't have.

"I try to take advantage of everything, not just tennis," Matalonga said. "I'm doing this not just for me, but for my family."

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