Fred Luddy loved tennis but he was far from an ace.
“When I was in seventh grade I started playing,” Luddy said. “I was instantly mediocre and never got any better.”
Luddy kept tennis near his heart while he later provided winners in the software world. That’s where he made his fortune and World Team Tennis is fortunate to have Luddy being among its biggest boosters.
Luddy’s San Diego Aviators of the WTT are primed for another season at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa, starting on July 15. The endeavor, which brings fast-paced tennis in a setting unlike the sport’s prim-and-proper reputation, is a hoot to watch.
Attending an Aviators match is fun, loud and unpredictable. Wait a second, that sounds like the personable Luddy.
“You have to be on top of your game when Fred is around,” said Aviators general manager Jim Ault. “He’s constantly pushing me to try stuff that I didn’t think I could do.’’
In Luddy’s third season, the Aviators are aiming for their third straight WTT final. Luddy is excited not just for his team, which is led by Rancho Santa Fe’s Taylor Fritz, but the entire league.
Luddy should be positive — in addition to owning the Aviators he’s the WTT’s big boss, too.
Actually he’s the league’s biggest fan and what’s the harm in a kid chasing a dream even if it had a different ending? Luddy rubbed shoulders with the game’s stars as an Indiana teenager, working as a ball boy at the state’s annual clay court tournament.
“I was standing there with all these great athletes: Rod Laver, Bob Lutz, Stan Smith and others,” said Luddy, a Del Mar resident. “It was really cool and inspirational.’’
Luddy didn’t include embarassing, without some prodding. Luddy worked a televised match with a wandering mind when a player wondered when the tyke was going to supply the ball for his serve.
“I wasn’t paying attention,” Luddy said. “So he threw his tennis racket at me. My parents saw it and were so proud.’’
If they weren’t then, they should see Luddy now. His ServiceNow company was recently named Forbes’ most innovative company. ServiceNow, an IT firm, had revenues of nearly $2 billion last year and is expected to grow 30 percent this year.
Software is where Luddy, 63, makes his dough. But he’s got a sweet spot for making tennis accessible to a fresh generation of followers.
“The appetite for sports fans is changing,” Luddy said. “It seems they want a bite-sized portion instead of the whole meal.”
Which is a plus for the accelerated action in the WTT. There are five matches with each set lasting about 15 minutes with the event going a shade past two hours.
Luddy’s audience isn’t at La Costa for a long time, but they’ll have a good time and that is Luddy’s goal.
“I like to see the kids meet the players and get some autographs,” he said. “It might even get the kids off their electronic devices and they can spend some time with their parents.”
A Silicon Valley guru suggesting something other than the latest gadget? Yes, and no, as Luddy’s push for the WTT includes a social media barrage which bombards the 20 countries from which the players hail from.
“If someone from South Africa is getting ready to play, we tweet it out and push it out there,” Luddy said. “We are streaming out everything for free and we think that’s the way to make the WTT grow.”
Luddy’s strides since retrieving tennis balls is impressive. He counts those former players as friends, and that includes Laver, the Carlsbad resident and whose court the team plays on at La Costa.
“Fast-forward 45 years,” Luddy says as he cranks up the time machine. ‘It’s pretty amazing.”
+ Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports