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Valencia's Chad LeDuff: Fitting of the distinction

Chad LeDuff earned Valencia’s coveted No. 1 singles spot as a sophomore, and he’s proven why

Posted: May 5, 2013 9:59 p.m.
Updated: May 5, 2013 9:59 p.m.

Valencia sophomore Chad LeDuff went 25-0 in singles sets this year in Foothill League play in addition to winning the league singles title.

 

People used to tell Christy LeDuff that her son had a gift.

For years, as she taught him the game, she’d brush off the comments about his potential talent. She didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary for a 4-year-old to be able to properly serve a tennis ball in bounds.

Only in recent years has she begun to recognize what her son, Valencia sophomore Chad LeDuff, is capable of.

“It’s surprised me,” Christy says of her son’s success. “I think when you train your own child, you really don’t know how they compare to other kids. You really don’t know how hard they hit the ball and then when we started playing all these tournaments and we see how well he’s going, we kind of realized maybe he really does have a gift.”

This season, Chad LeDuff burst onto the scene as the Foothill League’s undisputed top singles player as Valencia prepares to open up play in the CIF-Southern Section Division II playoffs on Tuesday.

LeDuff finished 25-0 in league sets and won all eight sets of the league individual finals last week on his way to claiming the Foothill singles crown.

The sophomore was barely challenged along the way.

Even on a Valencia team which has seemingly played a level above the rest of the area for the past eight years (eight straight Foothill titles and 71 consecutive league match wins), LeDuff has proven more than worthy of the most coveted high school tennis position in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“I honestly wasn’t sure because I had such good competition at my school,” LeDuff says of making Valencia’s No. 1 singles spot. “But I just knew I had to work hard because my parents just kept telling me if I kept practicing, I could do it.”

Last year, LeDuff was Valencia’s lone freshman to make the varsity team, but he spent most of the season playing in the No. 2 doubles spot with partner Jorriel Malabanan.

Malabanan graduated and LeDuff went to work in the offseason.
“I saw immediately the potential (LeDuff had) because he was already last year practicing more than anyone else,” says Valencia teammate Kevin Saginian. “So I knew at some point he was going to pass their level of play.”

And LeDuff’s work went far beyond team practices.

Nearly every weekday morning during the summer, LeDuff woke up at 6:30 a.m. to go hitting with his mom at the public tennis courts down the street from their house.

He would work on his technique for hours while Christy, a tennis instructor through the city of Santa Clarita Parks and Recreation, would help.

With both of Chad’s parents working as instructors, he basically grew up around the sport, beginning at age 4.

The only time he stopped playing was for a brief stint when he was 10 and wanted to try playing a few other sports, mainly basketball.

But Chad always naturally gravited back to tennis.

“He does enjoy it,” Christy says. “We do it as a family and we enjoy the time together. And he just knows that there’s something to always work on and he’s very goal oriented.”

On the weekends, LeDuff would put all the training to work in various junior tournaments around Southern California.

It’s those tournaments which have pushed his United States Tennis Association ranking at 80th in the 16-year-old open division. LeDuff doesn’t turn 16 for another couple of weeks.

His play also earned him a $2,500 grant last year to help cover the expenses of traveling around to play tournaments. The award, called the Pancho Gonzalez Scholar Athlete Grant, was given to one boy and one girl in the country who was ranked high enough in his/her age group and demonstrated proficiency in the classroom.

LeDuff had a 4.0 GPA at the time.

But while weekend tournaments are mostly business, he says playing team tennis is really what keeps him inspired.

“Now I have my team too, so that really keeps me going,” LeDuff says. “I really love my teammates and I really love USTA now. It’s a lot better.”

Longtime Valencia head coach Annie Kellogg says LeDuff’s USTA ranking is one of the highest she’s ever seen among players she’s coached.

She attributes it to his major transformation from freshman to sophomore year.

“He really improve his game a lot from last year. He was a very nice player as a freshman and came in and played varsity. ... He’s really making that commitment to improve his game and play tournaments,” Kellogg says.

There’s a good chance LeDuff will go down as one of the school’s greats, Kellogg says, but it’s hard to compare him to former Valencia tennis stars because his game is much different.

LeDuff is a power player who relies on his strong forehand, dominant serve and getting to the ball quickly. His biggest asset may very well be the psychological affect he can have on opponents.

His ability to keep calm and never outwardly show frustration is unlike any Kellogg has seen at Valencia, she says.

LeDuff says his tournament experience has helped a lot with that. He never gets nervous before matches.

In many ways though, his level-headed style of play is something he’s always had. One could say it’s a gift.

That should come in handy on Wednesday, when Valencia will open up play in the CIF-Southern Section Division II playoffs.

After that, on May 23, LeDuff will try his hand at the CIF-SS Individual tournament.

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