María Martínez Vaquero has been a tennis player for as long as she can remember. “I think I was born with a racket,” said Vaquero. She is the daughter of a professional tennis coach, Mari Cruz Vaquero, and the niece of a professional tennis player, Marga Vaquero. So it’s no surprise that she has played so well for USF. In March, Vaquero beat a top 20 nationally ranked player, Stanford University’s Connie Ma. The win moved Vaquero to #99 in the country. “I think that was my biggest win in my tennis career,” said Vaquero. Vaquero joins the All-WCC second singles team this year for the third year in a row, and the doubles team honorable mentions with her partner Simran Chhabra.
Originally from Asturias, Spain, Vaquero moved to San Francisco three years ago to play tennis and major in media studies at USF. “In Spain you either study or play professionally, there is no combination,” said Vaquero. “But here you can do both things and since I knew that was an option, I was like ‘yeah, I’m doing that.’”
The biggest change for Vaquero in playing college tennis was joining a team.“Even though you play your own match, you have to play for the team,” she said. “It’s a different experience in a good way, there is something pushing you to win your match, it’s not only for yourself, you have to win for the team.” Vaquero’s other favorite sport is also individual — downhill ski racing. She competed in both tennis and skiing until she was 13. When the two sports became too time consuming, Vaquero chose to continue competing in tennis. She also grew up playing soccer, as her grandfather, Marcelinio Vaquero played professionally, and is remembered as one of the best defenders in Spain.
Over the years, tennis has been central to Vaquero’s growth. “Tennis gave me so many values that I’m using nowadays — playing tennis you have to be a very hard worker, you have to be organized because you are traveling every week,” she said.
The most important lesson Vaquero has taken away from her sport is the art of losing gracefully. “In tennis only one person wins the tournament,” said Vaquero. “So you’re always going to lose unless you win the tournament. I feel like getting to know how to deal with losing I think is very important, because you have to continue [even] if you lose.”
The day before a match, Vaquero wraps her racket grips carefully so they will be perfect. After wrapping the racket, she sits down with a notebook to journal her thoughts for the match. “Tennis is a very mental sport,” said Vaquero. “You can be very talented and have very good strokes and physical condition, but if your mentality is not good, you lose the match.” Her journals include what she intends to be thinking as the match begins and contingencies if the score doesn’t go her way.
After graduating from USF in the fall of 2023, Vaquero hopes to pursue her master’s degree in media, potentially at an East Coast school. She wants to continue playing tennis. “I don’t want to stop competing because I like that feeling [of competing],” she said.