Laguna local Michael Sanchez loves his work in film and television, but concedes his day job allows him to pursue his avocation, playing tennis.
Last month, he won the 30th Annual Southern California NTRP Sectional Championships in the men’s 4.0 singles division.
The June win was the fifth consecutive United States Tennis Association championship for Sanchez this year. Ratings are updated after every officiated match and figure in year-end rankings, which establish the level of competition. Players are ranked from 2.5 for beginners up to 7.0 for pro players.
Sanchez started playing tennis at age 11 and was a keen competitor, but an ankle injury sustained while playing softball made it impossible for him to play during college. He attended the University of New Mexico and left the courts behind for five years. “It was a relief,” Sanchez said.
In his 20s, Sanchez re-discovered tennis and began playing for fun. After moving to New York and beginning a career in the entertainment business, he joined a league that makes its home at Concordia College in White Plains, N.Y. There, he’ll play two matches next week, July 10 and 12, to qualify for national playoff eligibility. The Concordia team is undefeated so far this year.
In addition to producing films (“Killer Movie,” starring Kaley Cuoco) and television shows (“The Ultimate Dance Battle, So You Think You Can Dance”) Sanchez runs Hollywood based Axis Management, promoting careers of Mandy Moore and Mary Murphy among others.
Sanchez, nearly 40, credits coach Matt Miller for helping him along. “He’s 25 and treats me like I’m 25, no mercy,” Sanchez said, noting that he’s quit skiing and playing softball to “save his knees so I can play tennis until I’m 90.”
Miller, who no longer plays in tournaments himself, says he’s more of a “practice partner,” but admits, “I’m very competitive.” He has been training children and adults for nine years, describing the job as a part-time passion.
Work frequently takes Sanchez to Europe, which allows him to also play in GLTA tournaments. The Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance holds invitation-only world championships every year, rotating between the U.S. and Europe. Sanchez has competed four times since 2010, playing in Amsterdam, Berlin, Orlando and Palm Springs. He and his partner won the doubles world championship in 2015.
The GLTA welcomes 10,000 gay and straight players to almost 70 events a year, typically more casual than USTA events. “You build a traveling family with other players,” says Sanchez. Players are ranked in five divisions from beginner to “open” level, which often includes teachers and pros, but a player need not have a National Tennis Rating Program rating to participate.
Every four years, the GLTA sponsors the Gay Games. Sanchez has been competing since 1994, winning three bronze medals in 1998 in Amsterdam and three gold medals in 2014 in Cleveland. The 2018 competition will be held at Roland Garros, home of the French Open, where Sanchez will defend his Cleveland titles while his husband, who is just learning to play tennis, will hopefully play alongside his 70-something mother in a mixed doubles match.
Having reached number one in his Southern California division, he feels certain that he’ll get “bumped up” to a 4.5 ranking by the end of 2016. And, he may have to be content with playing close to home as he and his husband Casey Ashby, are thinking about becoming parents.
Photo: Michael Sanchez on the court.