For weeks, Matt Anger and Clement Chidekh harbored a secret.

Anger, the longtime University of Washington men’s tennis coach, had decided to step down at the end of the season after 28 highly successful years in which he elevated the program to national prominence.

But that was only half the news they kept to themselves for the time being. The other part: Anger’s next step is going to be as the personal coach of Chidekh, UW’s No. 1 player and one of the best in the nation, when he turns pro in the summer.

The revelation wasn’t to be let out to the world until UW’s season ended, so as not to serve as a distraction. And then the Huskies extended Anger’s tenure — and unwittingly, the secret — with a stirring charge into the Pac-12 finals that included an upset of top-seeded Arizona. Despite losing to USC in the championship round, the Huskies’ underdog run earned them an unexpected berth in the NCAA tournament — the 22nd of Anger’s UW career.

It was only after the Huskies lost their opening NCAA match to Pepperdine that Anger finally told the team he was stepping down. And now he has one more act as Husky coach before embarking on his new life — coaching Chidekh in the singles portion of the NCAA men’s tournament in Champaign, Illinois, beginning Monday.

It will be an emotional time for both. Anger, 58, will leave the school to which he has devoted his professional life after his pro career ended, serving as mentor to dozens of young men.

“I feel like I’ve given everything I have,” Anger said. “I’ve been bleeding purple the whole time.”

Advertising

And Chidekh, 21, will end two joyful years in Seattle after making the decision to leave his home in Lyon, France, to play college tennis. Chidekh ascended to No. 1 in the NCAA rankings this year and is ranked No. 8. He will be seeded in the top 16 at NCAAs and according to Anger has a solid chance to grab a national title, which would be the first in school history.

“If I was a handicapping person, there are eight guys I’d probably look at and say, ‘Wow, these guys are all capable.’ And Clement is certainly one of those guys,” Anger said.

It was near Thanksgiving when Anger broached to Chidekh the idea of coaching him as a pro. Chidekh was thrilled and on board immediately.

“My first reaction, I was super proud and motivated,” Chidekh said. “If Coach Anger thinks I can do well and he wants to help me and he’s ready to leave his job that he’s been doing for 27 years with so much success to come with me, it’s like a true mark of confidence.”

Anger had been kicking around the idea of retiring this year or next, but the opportunity to help the hugely promising Chidekh take the next step in his career coalesced the timing in his mind. It helped that his children are grown so he has more freedom for the travel that will be considerable in his new role. Anger figures he’ll spend about two weeks a month traveling, either to coach Chidekh in pro tournaments or help him practice at his French home base of Marseille.

Anger feels some remorse in leaving his younger Husky recruits, “But as my daughter said, if I were to wait for every freshman class, it would never happen.”

Advertising

Coaching Chidekh will help him assuage a different sense of guilt he’s harbored over the years.

“We’ve had some players before that I think could have done better coming out of college,” he said. “I wish I would have been able to help them more.”

In Chidekh, Anger sees the perfect vehicle to impart his vast reservoir of knowledge that he honed as an All-American at USC and a pro who rose as high as No. 23 in the world. Anger reached the final 16 at Wimbledon and the French Open in 1986. He sees a prosperous career for Chidekh.

“Clement is a quality person, a guy that is doing very well and working harder than anybody,” Anger said. “In sports, those are the people that are going to keep progressing. His best tennis is ahead of him.”

Chidekh, in turn, credits Anger with accelerating his growth by teaching him not only the requisite tennis strokes but honing the mental part of his game.

“He knows so many things, so many shots — shots I didn’t even know we could learn,” Chidekh said. “He teaches them by telling you how it’s supposed to feel in the racket. It’s so much easier to learn that way; it’s the precise feel that makes it so accurate.

Advertising

“It gives me so much calm on the court when I’m in individual tournaments. I feel like I play two against one.

“I was at a point (in France) where I needed to choose between school and tennis. And I wasn’t ready to make that choice yet,” he said. “It was an unbelievable opportunity here to get good coaching at a good school with an insane facility. It didn’t take me long to say yes.”

Now Chidekh considers himself a Husky for life, and he soaked up the team atmosphere to the fullest.

“It’s just a motivation waking up in the morning when you’re not doing it only for you, you’re doing for all the guys,” he said. “That’s why people improve so much in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, Anger looks back with pride on the growth of the Husky program, which in his early years had to play the (then) Pac-10 southern schools on the road because tennis in the Northwest wasn’t deemed strong enough to warrant a trip.

“I had to fight for number of years to say, ‘Look, we can compete with these teams,’ and make it a fair schedule,” he said.

Sponsored

The Huskies eventually became a force, making the NCAA tournament 19 consecutive times. In looking back at the highlights of his UW career, Anger puts the Huskies’ recent run to the Pac-12 title match near the top, along with their first Pac-10 title in 2005, and the first time the Huskies advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 (2001). Anger had 10 teams ranked in the top 15 during the season.

But it’s the relationships, not the triumphs (and near-misses that still burn), that Anger will remember the longest.

“I had reasons why I wanted to get into coaching. And that (relationships) was never one of them,” he said. “I never thought about that. And that has been the greatest and best surprise, just keeping in touch with the players over the years as they’re playing their tennis or going on with their life beyond tennis. And then their families and staying in touch. … I hope that continues, because that is incredibly special.”