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He Is No Laughing Matter as Top CSUN Tennis Player

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Times Staff Writer

The first thing you notice about Nicolas Renard is that he laughs quite often. Unless, of course, you happen to be playing tennis against him. Then the first thing you notice is that tennis balls seem to be screeching past your head quite often.

The Paris-born Renard is the No. 1 player on the Cal State Northridge tennis team this year, just as he was last year. He won his first five matches this season, including three against Division I opponents. He lost in three sets Thursday to Cal Lutheran’s Chris Groff, and the loss bothered Renard. For about 10 minutes. Then he started laughing again.

Some examples:

As he pulled on his warmup clothes after the match, one of his teammates casually mentioned how well his red, white and blue jacket went with his fluorescent orange sweat pants and his gray and black sneakers. “One thing you should know about Nick,” the teammate said. “Stevie Wonder dresses him.”

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Renard laughs.

Another teammate grabs the 5-6 Renard and says, “But we like him so much because he’s so smaaallll.”

Renard laughs.

You start to get the idea that the Frenchman doesn’t quite understand the English language, that he would also laugh if four large men with nicknames like “The Coroner” and “Meat” told him they were going to take him for a ride in their Buick after the match. In the trunk.

But Renard, 21, does understand. He just likes to laugh. Now last year, that’s a different story. Then, he didn’t always understand.

“These guys would tell the jokes and I would not laugh because I don’t understand them,” said Renard, who moved from Paris to Los Angeles 2 1/2 years ago. “They would make fun of me for that. So I started laughing at their jokes, and they stopped making fun of me. I still did not know the jokes, but I laughed anyway.”

It became obvious to his teammates this year that Renard now does know the jokes.

“We were on the road and met some girls from France,” CSUN player Kevin Feinbloom said. “Nick gives us a quick lesson in French and sends us over to these girls to say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ We almost fell for it. But we knew better than to trust him. He told us later that what it really meant was, ‘Hey, your underarms stink.’

“We’ve never trusted Nick since.”

Renard also has another tactic he uses on occasion to get his teammates off his back.

“We’ll be kidding him about something,” Feinbloom said, “and he’ll just remind us how good he is, that he beats all of us pretty easy on the tennis court. That usually shuts us up pretty quick.

“But the nicest thing about Nick is that he’s not really like that at all. He’s not a team’s typical No. 1 player, the real cocky jerk that most of those guys are. He just plays tennis. He never brags about it.”

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According to CSUN Coach Tony Davila, Renard has plenty to brag about.

“His weak link last year was his serve,” Davila said. “He’s improved on that a lot and seldom gets broken. But his ground strokes, his baseline game, that’s where he excels. He’s awesome. That’s his strong point. That and his attitude. He works harder than anyone else. When he’s playing in a match, it’s impossible to tell by watching him whether he’s winning or losing.

“He doesn’t let up when he’s winning and he doesn’t give up when he’s losing. He’s got a perfect attitude for tennis.”

Renard came to Los Angeles for a three-week vacation after his high school graduation. He stayed for 13 months, returning to Paris long enough to tell his family he was moving to California. He played a year at Santa Monica College before accepting a partial scholarship to play tennis at CSUN.

“I am here for the education, for the degree, not for tennis,” said Renard, who is an economics major. “Maybe I will try playing as a professional some day, but the education, that is something I will always have.”

That and the memories of friends who made him laugh.

“These guys, they are impossible,” Renard said. “They know I have some troubles with the language, so they make words up. They use words, they are not words at all. I hear these things and I go back and try to find them in the books and I cannot find them. The words are not in the books. Then they tell me they just made the word up, that it means nothing.

“These guys, they are impossible.”

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