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Newton’s Lee Ford earns All-America honors in tennis

Skidmore College junior Lee Ford and her tennis partner, Nataly Mendoza, are ranked number eight in doubles.

Skidmore College junior Lee Ford and her tennis partner, Nataly Mendoza, are ranked number eight in doubles.

Tennis has always been a family affair for Newton’s Lee Ford, recently named a Division 3 All-American in doubles as a junior at Skidmore College.

Her mother, Mary, is the sister of former touring pros Tim and Chris Mayotte and Ford has had the opportunity to refine her game with her uncles since she was in grade school.

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“I’m grateful to all of them and of course, learning from Tim, who was once the seventh-ranked singles player in the world, and from Chris, who was also a world-ranked pro, is an experience I’ll always cherish,’’ said Ford, whose number eight doubles ranking — with senior partner Nataly Mendoza — from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association earned the tandem All-America status.

“And my mom has always been a great teacher and a great influence who has always encouraged me to stay focused on my game,’’ added Ford, a Skidmore tricaptain who was 17-11 at doubles this past season and 16-10 at singles.

In both brackets, all the losses were against players from nationally ranked teams. She was also ranked fourth in the Northeast Region in singles and 21st in doubles by the ITA.

Tim Mayotte, who was recently named an honorary member at Longwood Cricket Club, where the Ford-Mayotte family have been longtime members, hit a round with his niece and other family members at his brother Ed’s Skytop Lodge in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania three weeks ago. He came away impressed.

“It was interesting to talk to her and see how she’s matured as a player,’’ said Mayotte, who now helps run a tennis academy in New York City. “Lee’s always had great athleticism ever since we started seriously hitting together when she was an 11-year-old. Her ground strokes are fluid and her volleying is much stronger.’’

Ford won silver and bronze balls (for second and third places) in 2011 with her mother at the national mother-daughter tournaments at Longwood; she also teamed with her father, Tom, last year at the father-daughter tournament at the same venue.

“Winning the silver and bronze balls with Lee was a dream of mine, ‘’ said Mary Ford, who grew up with her siblings in Springfield and was a top-ranked junior in New England from age 12 to 16.

“Lee’s game is still evolving, she’s embracing competition in a positive way and she’s making her own name in the sport. We’ve always been low-key about our tennis successes but when you have two uncles who were great pros, I’m sure she felt pressure.’’

On occasions when Tim and Chris, now a teaching pro in Norwalk, Conn., came to town, it was not unusual to see the two world-class players, their sister and their niece playing some family doubles on the courts at Lee’s alma mater, Newton North High School.

“I always learned something new when we played together,’’ said Ford, who left last week — with a stop to watch the matches at Wimbledon — for a semester at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “They helped my mental approach to the game and with shot selection.’’

Ford transferred to Skidmore from Division 1 Santa Clara and during the 2011-12 season won the ITA Northeast Region Doubles title with Mendoza. They were the program’s first All-Americans in more than a decade. They also finished fourth among eight doubles teams at the National Small College Championships that season.

This past season, Skidmore (13-9) finished the season ranked 19th nationally. The Thoroughbreds beat Vassar to win their third consecutive Liberty League championship and also advanced to the NCAA Division 3 tournament’s regional final.

“It wasn’t a smooth ride, but having a winning record and being named All-Americans was gratifying,” said Ford. “Now that Nataly has graduated, I want to come back next spring and be a mentor for our younger players.’’

Ford played varsity tennis for two seasons at Newton North, earning Globe All-Scholastic honors as a freshman. During her sophomore and senior years, she opted to train at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and compete on the New England junior circuit.

While in Florida, she was visited by her uncle Tim, who continued to work with her.

“I was really determined to play Division 1 college tennis,’’ recalled Ford, a quarterfinalist at the USTA/New England U-16 championships.

“But I only played in three tournaments at Santa Clara and stayed one trimester. It wasn’t the atmosphere I had hoped for. I was at the bottom of the lineup and missing home.’’

So she came home to regroup and “put myself on a more positive track, but leaving Santa Clara was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. I wasn’t sure how other college coaches would react to my leaving, but I did have good grades there.’’

Ford worked as an intern at the New Art Center in Newton and as a waitress, and visited prospective colleges. She decided she liked the academic and tennis opportunities at Skidmore, a Division 3 school in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

“We’re going to miss Lee’s leadership this fall because her compete level was huge and she was more comfortable with her approach to the game,’’ said Skidmore head coach Curt Speerschneider.

“But I’m happy to see her enhance her college experience overseas and I know she’ll come back hungry and ready to lead our team in the spring,’’ he said.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.
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