Monday, June 20, 2005
Former Tennis Star Seeks Success in Different Court
By Jim Riggio, Staff Writer
Derrick Rostagno has spent much of his life on the court. Now at 39, Rostagno hopes to spend time in court.
After years of playing competitive tennis—he was once ranked No. 13 in the world among men—studying business, and working on real estate deals, the former Olympian is going to practice law.
Rostagno, who represented the United States as an 18-year-old when the Olympics were held in Los Angeles in 1984, was recently sworn in after passing the California bar exam.
“Probably, I was more excited becoming an attorney in a strange way,’’ Rostagno said in comparison to playing professional tennis. “Tennis was a gradual process. There were so many years of dreaming and working hard as a kid, working for 15 years before anything good happened.
“The big thing was when the bar [exam] was done,” he comments. “It was certainly a relief and it was very exciting. I hadn’t even allowed myself to imagine what it was like. I pretty much put my head down and did the work that was necessary.”
Rostagno says he had been thinking for years about following in the footsteps of his father. Juan Rostagno has spent over 30 years as a civil litigator, and the younger Rostagno clerked at Rostagno and Associates and also at other firms, including Riordan, Lewis and Haden, a firm started by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
In fact, in 1994 when Rostagno missed the tennis season due to injury, he worked as an intern in the mayor’s office and simultaneously attended UCLA.
Rostagno returned to play pro tennis in 1995, when he received the Comeback Player of the Year award, but eventually stopped playing in 1996 due to a back injury.
He then returned to Stanford University, which he had initially attended after graduating from Chadwick School in Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1983. Rostagno completed his undergraduate degree in economics in 1997, and soon returned to Southern California and UCLA to begin working on a master’s degree in business.
“I’m more of a numbers guy and I figured business may be a fun area for me more so than law,’’ Rostagno said. “I got heavily involved in finance and I enjoyed it very much, but there is a way to use both with transactional legal work.’’
After graduating from UCLA in 1999, Rostagno said he worked with his father on a number of real estate projects, but decided to enter Loyola Law School in 2001.
“I went to the evening program so I could have my daytime free to do some of these [real estate] things,” Rostagno said. Rostagno graduated from Loyola in December, and says he was surprised to pass the bar soon after.
“I didn’t do a bar review class, so I was preparing to take it again,’’ Rostagno said. “Mentally I didn’t want to be discouraged [if I didn’t pass].”
Rostagno said that he has recently enjoyed speaking with friends in the Los Angeles tennis community about the legal advice he has to offer.
“(Recently) somebody approached me through friends in tennis,’’ Rostagno said. “People say, ‘This guy took advantage, what can I do.’ Sometimes these are little cases, but I want to be able to help my tennis-related friends.’’
Rostagno, who reached at least the third round of all four Grand Slams in tennis and earned $1,621,535 in his playing career, said he would like to follow in the same path of his father as a litigator.
“I’m talking to a lot of people,’’ Rostagno said of his job prospects. “If I can be associated with a firm that handles all types of litigation, I think that would be ideal. I think it’s more interesting in a practice to have different types of cases one works on.”
Many who know Rostagno are not surprised by his jump into the legal world. One person who has known Rostagno since their days growing up on the tennis courts of the Jack Kramer Tennis Club in Rolling Hills Estates is Gus Sampras, now the vice-president of International Management Group Tennis, and older brother of tennis great Pete Sampras.
“I always knew he was very smart and he was also a great guy in everything he did,’’ Gus Sampras said.
Rostagno still plays in tennis tournaments and enjoys reminiscing on his career, which included victories over greats like Sampras, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker.
Rostagno said one highlight of his career was at Wimbledon in 1990 when he knocked out three-time champion McEnroe in the first round. It was one of only two times in McEnroe’s career that he lost in the first round at Wimbledon.
“It was a funny story. He was so angry after that match he said to the press he would never lose to me again,’’ Rostagno recalled. “Then we had to play in the semifinals the following week in Washington and I beat him there. It was hilarious in the press. They showed the interview and they showed his words. Two weeks later we played for a third time in the same summer and we were in a tie-breaker in the third set and he got so angry at something I don’t recall that he threw his racket and was defaulted. I was his nightmare that summer.”
McEnroe did not respond to a request for comment.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company