No elementary talent
Joseph DiGiulio, a 10-year-old Newport Beach resident, has shown plenty of growth potential on the court.
By Natalie Venegas, Daily Pilot
When Joseph DiGiulio played in his first tournament three years ago this month, he had never competed in a match. He wasn't even sure of how the scoring worked.
But when he won that first tournament, coaches paid attention. When he won the next three, his parents knew he was different. Now, three years and two national championships later, some believe the 10-year-old Newport Beach resident may have a special future in the sport.
DiGiulio, rated No. 20 in the nation and No. 5 in Southern California in his age group, has been competing up in the 12-and-under division. After dominating at that level, he said he is moving on to the 14s, where the 4-foot-8 prodigy will compete against boys up to twice his size -- exactly how he likes it.
"He's not affected by pressure," said Billy McQuade, his coach since he began three years ago at the Palisades Tennis Club. "He doesn't yell, he doesn't swear, he doesn't throw his racquet. You can't even tell if he's up, 5-0, or down, 5-0. His court presence is something I've never seen in all my years. You just can't teach that."
The budding star just returned from Arizona, where he competed at the United States Tennis Assn. National Winter Championships. After losing a match in the third round, the Pete Sampras look-alike won six consecutive matches to win the Boys' 12 singles consolation northeast draw.
DiGiulio then won in singles and doubles, the latter with David Blakely, at the Copper Bowl, in Tucson, Ariz. He won six straight singles matches to claim the crown.
"He says he wants to be a tennis pro," McQuade said. "In all my years, I have never seen someone so focused."
But the fifth-grader is focused on more than tennis.
He practices five or six days a week, while also collecting straight A's at St. Catherine Catholic School in Laguna Beach.
He has the maturity and the backswing of an adult, but displays a child-like passion for tennis, as well as pursuits away from the court.
"I really like hanging out with friends and with my brother," DiGiulio said. "I like math, I like spelling, I like going swimming, and I like tennis because it's pretty fun."
His father, Paul DiGiulio, said his son is always racing home asking about what tournament is coming up next.
"When he gets home from school, he can't wait to get on the tennis courts," said his mother, April DiGiulio. "He started playing golf, but then he told me, 'Mommy, this is boring.' And he hasn't wanted to play any other sport since."
After dominating the 12s, DiGiulio told his coach and his parents he wanted more competition, not only in matches, but also at the club, where he plays against college kids as well as the club's top players.
"He's used to such strong hitters and people twice his size, but he's not intimidated," his father said. "He doesn't act like a 10-year-old. He has the mind of an adult. He's all concentration and doesn't let anything distract him. He's so consistent, he's like a machine every game."
When asked why he craves shuffling across the court with older players, DiGiulio said, "it's more fun because there's more competition and it's more challenging."
Last weekend DiGiulio attended the Whittier Open. Having won the 12s singles title at the tournament last season, he competed in the 14s. For the first time in four years, he lost in the first round.
Even though DiGiulio, who has sponsorship deals with a shoe company and a racquet manufacturer, lost to a player 14 inches taller, McQuade said it's only a hiccup.
"Everyone has to lose once in a while," McQuade said. "It makes you appreciate winning more. It's a good experience and he's ready to compete again."