Clement Chidekh sure knows how to make a good impression.
The Washington sophomore men’s tennis player, a transfer from the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Lyon in his home country of France, impressed the UW coaches so much they named him one of three team captains before he played a match as a Husky.
Chidekh’s star continued to rise once matches started. Chidekh, who moved into the No. 1 singles spot in his second match, is 10-1 in singles and 8-2 in doubles while teaming with senior Thibault Cancel.
Cancel deserves a huge assist in getting Chidekh to UW.
Cancel and Chidekh knew each other from growing up in Toulouse, France. When there was an open UW roster spot for this season, Cancel had a recommendation for coach Matt Anger.
“He said, ‘I know a guy who is a really solid player, and good academically, who started at a French university and now wants to come to play where he has the chance to pursue the tennis and the academics in the U.S.,’ and it was Clement,” Anger said.
Anger researched Clement’s results that night and liked what he saw: a player who had beaten several of the top players in France and was ranked in the Tennis Europe Top 100.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this guy does look good. He’s legit,’ ” said Anger, whose team has a 6-5 record. “That’s how it all started.”
At UW, Clement can combine academics and tennis. That was not possible in France, he said, where it had to be one or the other. After a year studying engineering in Lyon, he was ready for the move to the U.S.
“I wanted to give more to my tennis,” said Chidekh, who said improving his English has been his challenge in moving. “(UW) was a combination of a good school and a good (tennis) program, and also a good coaching staff that can help me improve as a tennis player and as a person, too.”
Anger realized Chidekh was a bit different soon after he arrived on campus. The coach asked Chidekh how he had been playing recently.
“Usually you get a vague answer like, ‘pretty good,’ ” said Anger, who classified Chidekh as an aggressive baseliner. “But Clement was extremely detailed. He is acutely aware of his game. When you have that, you are that much more prepared. You know what you’ve got to work on and you’re going to get after it. I think a lot of guys have an idea, but they are not as acutely aware as Clement.”
Once the team started practicing, Clement stood out again with his focus, concentration and the ability to bring his best almost every day.
“(Assistant) coach Chris Russell and I were talking through the fall, and we said, ‘This guy is not only legit, he’s legit every day,’ ” Anger said. “I think he’s had two days of practice where we thought, ‘Is everything OK with Clement?’ That’s pretty good for anyone, let alone someone adjusting to a new place.”
Anger said that consistency, along with Chidekh’s team-minded attitude and humility, led him to being named a team captain.
“One of the things that made it an easy move to make him a captain was that he is very humble,” Anger said. “He will go out and practice and beat up on someone, and then tell that guy all the good things they were doing. It’s not like he’s looking at them and saying, ‘I owned you today.’ It’s the other way. ‘You were doing this well, and this well, and if you had done this a little better, you might have been beating me today.’ ”
Chidekh seems more focused on his one singles defeat than his 10 victories, including a straight-set win over Oregon’s Joshua Charlton, who was ranked No. 30 in the country.
In the one loss, Chidekh had two match points against No. 50-ranked Jonas Ziverts of Arizona before losing in a third-set tiebreaker.
“I still can do better,” said Chidekh, who said he is not surprised by his success because his game improved during fall practices. “If you work hard, you will get good results.”
Chidekh said he tries to lead by example and “was very surprised” when he was made captain. He said it makes him “want to give more to his teammates.”
“I think before (being named captain), I wasn’t shy but I just did my thing and didn’t want to tell the guys how to work and everything,” he said. “It’s helped me to be more vocal of what I think of the team, on how to work hard and how to help us to improve together.”
Anger has coached three players at UW who have reached the semifinals in the NCAA championships. He said he has seen enough from Chidekh to think he can be the next great Husky.
“I don’t want to overstate things early,” Anger said. “But when you are that detailed and that motivated early on. … I think he can work to be a top player and be a really good pro.”