Mason tennis players take advantage of opportunity for growth by volunteering at WS Open

Akshay Joshi poses with professional tennis player, Anna Danilina, after practicing on the Mason High School tennis courts. Joshi met Danilina while volunteering at the ATP.

Alisha Soni | The Chronicle

Mason tennis player Harshita Uppuganti was not distracted when she took the court with one of the top tennis players in the world, Uppuganti had a job to do.

Uppuganti volunteered at the Western and Southern Open as a ballperson. Ball people play a crucial role in the sport of professional tennis, and are tasked to quickly retrieve and provide players with tennis balls during the matches.

Uppuganti was one of several Mason High School students who worked the tournament this year.

Uppuganti currently plays on the Mason Varsity team, but was originally encouraged to join the sport by her dad when she was around the age of six. Uppuganti and her dad purchased tickets in order to be in attendance at the yearly tennis tournaments that were hosted in Ohio.

With the newfound tradition, Uppuganti was quickly immersed into the thought of her one day being on court, surrounded by the players she had studied from the audience.

To fulfill her aching desire, she applied to become a ballperson as soon as she was eligible, in hopes that she would one day be selected.

“I thought it would be so exciting to be so close to the players,” said Uppuganti. “Even [as] my third year [as a ballperson], is cool, with the realization that they’re world-renowned players and they’re in your hometown.”

Every person applying to become a ball person must undergo tryouts in consideration of being selected. The test is divided into two parts; a written part summarizing tennis and ballperson rules, and second part which requires physical skills and then eventually training on court.

Although being passionate about tennis is not essential, it is better to fully comprehend the regulations of a tennis game so it is easier to perform the job as ballperson.

Like Uppuganti, junior Akshay Joshi originally started tennis as a pastime with his father, which eventually spiraled into his competitive passion. While Joshi is not playing on the Mason Varsity tennis team, he travels to other states outside of Ohio to compete in regional tournaments.

During the tournament, besides being a ball person, Joshi learned some of what it takes to be a professional tennis player as he practiced with some of the players. Through his interactions, Joshi was able to study his opponent’s techniques and take away some small details for himself.

“I think that ball-boying puts [tennis] into perspective because it’s so hard playing and it gets really tiring, really fast,” said Joshi. “Being out there you realize that [the players] go out and do that, and they could do it again every day and still be fine.”

Senior Shruthi Datla was also thrust into the sport of tennis at a young age, and eventually made her way through the ranks and onto Mason’s Varsity Tennis team. Observing the players she admires while being a ball person from a different position is one of the reasons why Datla continues to return to volunteer as a ballperson.

“It’s really cool to see people who I see on TV right in front of me,” said Datla. “I would try to not think about it, and stay professional, but when I was off the court, I’d definitely be fangirling.”

Staying professional is yet another rule of the volunteering commitment. As a ballperson, it is forbidden to start conversations with any of the athletes, however, working in a close radius of the players allows some of the ball people to take pictures with players after their matches.

Working in close proximity to the match’s action provides numerous advantages, however, it can sometimes result in a few errors. A strict rule that a ballperson must abide by is to avoid attracting attention or to “stay hidden,” especially if one is volunteering during a TV broadcasted match.

Uppuganti said that when she had made a mistake, she felt an immense amount of embarrassment come over her.
“My shoes were wet so when I was running, I slipped, and I fell down while I was getting the ball,” said Uppuganti. “I had to run, and throw it to the player, and then someone in the audience yelled, ‘you’re safe!’ like in baseball, I was so embarrassed and the players laughed, but it happens to everybody.”

Along with abiding by a plethora of strict rules, ball people have the task of working late shifts and waiting patiently through rain delays. With the regular occurrence of volunteering on a school night, they must decide if the position is worth it.

Despite this, many people’s passion for tennis outweighs the possibility of losing some sleep as they kindle the opportunities that the professional players provide them with.

“If you don’t love the sport, then you’re going to find [being a ball person] a bit of a struggle because it can be quite exhausting,” Joshi said. “It’s a really fun experience and I encourage anyone who is considering it to give it a try.”

Photo contributed by Akshay Joshi