CHAMPAIGN – What David Ruedi views as one of his best qualities also serves, he acknowledges, as one of his most challenging.
Ruedi, the senior tennis standout at Centennial, plays with a demonstrable passion for what he does. He is emotional and energetic.
But he's also a perfectionist, and when things go haywire, Ruedi is unforgiving. On himself.
"I've always had to really work hard to keep my composure," Ruedi said. "I have high expectations and when I don't meet those expectations, I get frustrated."
There is little doubt that's part of what makes Ruedi one of the area's best players. A year ago, he teamed with then-senior Quinn Miller to share News-Gazette Area Player of the Year honors after the duo finished ninth in the state doubles tournament.
But his approach also is the source of a constant battle, one that envelops him on occasion and prevents him from achieving on a higher level. Thus, the battle.
"We've had talks about that," Centennial coach Don Waybright said. "If he's playing well, everything's great. If he's not, it's hard to get him out of that hangdog look. He's constantly talking to himself, almost belittling himself."
A year ago, Ruedi had a nice form of help in keeping his mind in the right spot. Miller was the yin to Ruedi's yang, a laidback sort who never seemed to stray too far from center.
When Miller needed a pop of intensity, Ruedi was there to inject it. And when Ruedi needed to relax, Miller helped him do it.
Now, Ruedi is on his own. His current doubles partner, Billy Regan, is a mixture of Ruedi and Miller: intense but not over-the-top.
"For me, there's a big difference," Ruedi said. "In doubles, I tend to not get as frustrated, I think partially because I have a partner. If I mess up or have a bad day, he can carry the team a little bit. In singles I put more pressure on myself, and I get more frustrated."
That's the backdrop for what will be one of the most intriguing questions of the tennis season as it develops: Will Ruedi play singles or doubles when the postseason series arrives?
It was an easy choice last spring. Miller and Ruedi, who won 34 of 38 matches, were clearly one of the state's best tandems all spring. The Ruedi-Regan pairing is promising, too, but Ruedi also is a solid singles player.
If he plays singles, Ruedi likely will run up against the state's best players, who typically tend to choose singles as their postseason route. If he plays doubles, Ruedi might have a better chance for further advancement, but that likely won't be clear until Regan and Ruedi play a few more matches together. So far, they're 1-1, but they were competitive against a duo from Edwardsville that could be seeded at state next month.
"My gut instinct is it might end up being a tossup, and in that case I'll owe it to David to let him choose where he wants to go," Waybright said.
In either case, Ruedi has the potential to make a name for himself again at state. He has a strong forehand and an above-average second serve, and Ruedi said he spent the summer working to improve the accuracy of his first serve.
He has not enjoyed a strong start to the season, but Waybright said that might be attributable to the weather.
"David's a warm-weather player," Waybright said.
One thing is fairly certain: It is reasonably warm in Chicago in late May, when the state tournament takes place. If Ruedi is playing singles, as he suspects, he'd be happy with a top-16 finish.
"I don't think I expect to do as well as we did in doubles last year," he said. "But I know I'm capable of doing that well."
Cream of the crop
A look at some of the top returning tennis players in the area:
Player, school Yr.
Colby Clapper, Danville Sr.
COMMENT: Headliner for a program that annually produces some top talent
Jackson Hayes, St. Thomas More Jr.
COMMENT: Finished third in sectional
singles as a sophomore
David Ruedi, Centennial Sr.
COMMENT: The key question: Will he play singles or doubles?
Joel Yambert, Central Sr.
COMMENT: Won sectional singles crown in '08; could repeat