2014/04/17

In Perspective – Not All About Tennis at the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs

 

(December 14, 2012) NORCROSS, GA – I spent the day at the quarterfinal round of the playoff for the US wildcard entry to next month’s Australian Open.  I saw young and upcoming Americans, such as Madison Keys and Christian Harrison, and veteran pros, such as Bethanie Mattek-Sands, trying to get into the draw.  At this level, where players are ranked anywhere from 123 to 474, it is always amazing to see the pace and depth and placement of shots, knowing the ability of these athletes is so close to those who get automatic entries into the Slams and Masters tournaments.

 

But after watching three plus matches, I decided on my way home to focus my report on one of the smallest folks at the tournament.  I had the pleasure of watching Matthew, from Vidalia, GA, do his job as a ball boy at the matches I watched.  He was by far the smallest in stature of the ball people; at the net he did not need to kneel because his head barely cleared the net.  I’m able to say that he was on the ball, pardon my pun, for the matches he worked.  In the last match, due to a shortage of ball people, he was the only person at the net for a set and a half.  But there he was, running for every ball anywhere close to him, realizing when not to roll the ball to the baseline because the server was ready.  Having to take extra strides with those small legs, he was as active as any player on the court.  However, when I told him after the match what a great job he had done, his nonverbal response was he was just doing his job.

 

Earlier this year in Gijon, Spain, at the US vs. Spain Davis Cup tie, I was impressed by another ball person.  She is taller, older, and, sorry Matthew, prettier than Matthew.  She appropriately had a ponytail because she reminded me of a pony trying out his legs, somewhat uncoordinated at times.  The first day the Netheads had to agree that she was not on the ball.  She, sorry for being politically incorrect, threw the ball “like a girl” with the ball going all over the place.  She would daydream occasionally and forget to chase a ball.  When one ball hit the serve speed clock and took a weird bounce, she took forever to find the ball.

 

But she never gave up and never lost her smile. The second day she was vastly improved (she learned to roll the balls rather than throw them) and by the last day she was approaching Matthew’s level.  I was able to meet her along with her fellow ball folks before the last day’s matches and I could see the smile and joy in her eyes.  And since she understood much more English than I understood Spanish, I was able to tell her she was doing a good job.

 

Why focus on ball kids?  While I was at the tennis matches I was incommunicado with the outside world.  It wasn’t until the ride home did I hear about the events at the school in Connecticut today.  It wasn’t until I reached home and turned on the TV did the magnitude of what happened really hit me.

 

The children who did not survive today will miss out on so much.  They should be enjoying the simple pleasures of life, such as being a ball person at a tennis tournament.

 

I just hope Matthew’s parents know to give him a big hug when he gets home tonight.  I hope the pretty Spanish girl also gets a big hug from her parents every day.

 

The events of today definitely put perspective on the importance of tennis matches in our lives.  Today reminded us what is important in life.  At the next professional tennis match you attend, if you have a chance, thank a ball person who has done a good job.  And as you are thanking them, remember those who will never get that opportunity.

 

By David Foster

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Fields Set for USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoff

(November 27, 2012) The USTA has announced the completed field for the Australian Open Wild Card Playoff. Top 30 player Bethanie Mattek-Sands, former US Open junior champion Jack Sock and two-time reigning NCAA singles champion Steve Johnson are among the players competing in the 2012 Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs, held December 14-16, at Life Time Athletic & Tennis at Peachtree Corners in Norcross, Ga., a certified USTA Regional Training Center.

Eight men and eight women will compete in the fourth annual Wild Card Playoffs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with each winner earning a singles main draw wild card into the 2013 Australian Open. The USTA secured the opportunity through a reciprocal agreement with Tennis Australia, where the two national tennis federations exchanged wild cards for the 2012 US Open and 2013 Australian Open.

The men’s field also includes Bradley Klahn the 2010 NCAA singles champion at Stanford who reached the second round of the 2012 US Open; Rhyne Williams a former All-American at Tennessee who qualified for the 2012 US Open; Denis Kudla, a one-time US Open junior finalist who, in 2012, qualified and reached the first round of the Australian Open and won two USTA Pro Circuit Challenger events; Tennys Sandgren, a former Tennessee standout who has won three USTA Pro Circuit Futures titles this year; Daniel Kosakowski (20, Huntington Park, Calif.), a former UCLA star who won back-to-back USTA Pro Circuit Futures championships in September; and Christian Harrison (18, Shreveport, La.), who, with older brother Ryan Harrison, advanced to the quarterfinals of the US Open doubles main draw in 2012.

Completing the women’s field is Irina Falconi Pan American Games gold medalist who reached the third round of the 2011 US Open; Mallory Burdette, the former Stanford standout who reached the third round of the 2012 US Open after winning a USTA Wild Card; Madison Keys’ last year’s Australian Open Wild Card Playoff winner who is the second-youngest player ranked in the WTA Top 140 after winning a $75,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Phoenix this November; Maria Sanchez, once the top-ranked college singles player at Southern California who won a $50,000 and a $75,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in 2012 to boost her ranking more than 560 places since 2011; Alexa Glatch, who was the runner-up to current World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the 2005 US Open junior championship; Julia Cohen who broke through to the WTA Top 100 in (No. 97) in July; and Alison Riske who has played in the main draw of the Australian Open (2011-12) and Wimbledon (2010-11) twice.

Keys, at 16 years old, and Jesse Levine won last year’s events, while current Top 100 players Ryan Harrison and Lauren Davis are among previous champions.

To help kick off the fourth annual Australian Open Wild Card Playoff, 2012 Olympic men’s doubles gold medal winners and 12-time Grand Slam doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan will play a unique exhibition, the “Battle of Georgia,” taking on five select doubles teams from the state each in a first-to-four-games exhibition match on Friday, Dec. 14, at Life Time.

For more information http://www.australianwildcard.com/aowc-players/

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