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Rick Leach proud to be at helm of Orange County Breakers

Rick Leach proud to be at helm of Orange County Breakers
Orange County Breakers tennis coach Rick Leach has been involved with World Team Tennis for decades as a fan, player and now coach. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

It would be more than fair to call Rick Leach a World Team Tennis lifer.

The league was founded in 1973, and Leach remembers going to watch matches in the early days. Back then, he said his parents would take him to the Forum in Inglewood to watch the L.A. Strings, or the Anaheim Convention Center to check out the Anaheim Oranges.

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Watching the matches helped foster a love of tennis for Leach, but also a love of teamwork.

As a junior at Laguna Beach High in 1982, he chose to play in the CIF playoffs instead of entering the junior French Open. The move paid off when the Breakers (then the Artists) won the title. And it’s no accident that he was a doubles specialist during his time on the pro tour, which included five Grand Slam men’s doubles titles.

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That love of World Team Tennis, where 60% of the five sets are contested in doubles, also was strong for Leach. He won a title as a player for the St. Louis Aces in 1996, and later played for his father Dick on the Newport Beach Breakers, now known as the Orange County Breakers.

Rick Leach begins his fifth season as Breakers head coach Sunday, when the team hosts the Philadelphia Freedoms in the season opener at 5 p.m. at Palisades Tennis Club. The Breakers are the defending World Team Tennis champions. Last year, they hoisted the King Trophy after earning their second league title in franchise history, winning at the rival San Diego Aviators in the title match.

Leach, now 53, remains a local presence as a professional at the Newport Beach Tennis Club. He would encourage everyone to come to Palisades over the next couple of weeks to check out the Breakers, who have won 13 straight home matches dating to 2016.

“I always loved it,” Leach said. “It’s fun for the kids. There’s music playing between points, and they get gifts, they get racquets, playing cards, balls, all of this stuff to inspire them. If in some way it inspires them to want to be a tennis player, then I think it’s a good thing ... I was lucky that my parents took me to matches when I was a kid.”

The last time the Breakers won the championship, it also was a Leach coaching. That was Dick, who was the USC men’s tennis head coach for 23 years, leading the charge in 2004. Rick said his father plans to be at the season opener at Palisades on Sunday night. Don’t be surprised if he offers his son some pointers.

Not that Rick needs them. The franchise has been successful under his coaching, advancing to the league finals each of the last three seasons.

“His expertise in doubles is huge, as three of the five sets every night are doubles,” Breakers general manager Allen Hardison said. “So he offers great feedback. He also does a great job of calming the players down on court and uses his timeouts very wisely. Lastly, keeping the team happy on the road is also a challenge. Rick does a great job of keeping everyone happy during the long road trip and after back to back to backs.”

Yes, a World Team Tennis coach is almost like a cheerleader. Leach isn’t always super-animated, but he is always offering encouragement.

“There is a lot of coaching,” he said. “I remember one time we were playing a match and my dad was watching. In between sets, he called me over and he was like, ‘Rick, you’ve got to tell the guy to play his forehand,’ or something like that. I was like, ‘I know, Dad, I’ve got it.’ But once you’re a coach, you’re always a coach. You’re trying to pick up tendencies, trying to pick up strategies. [The match] does go fast. It’s exciting though. As a coach, you can’t have any ego, but at the same time you just want to bring the best out of your players.

“That’s what was so gratifying about last year, we kind of came together at the end when we needed to. We got everybody playing well at that time.”

Leach has been watching World Team Tennis long enough to know that’s the key.

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