M. Tennis: Having a Ball

March 31, 2011, 1:55 a.m.

Jamin Ball loves tennis. He started playing at age 7, and by 11, the sport was already his self-proclaimed “passion.” Seven years later, the Stanford freshman still loves the game that has been one of the main components of his young life.

Tennis is a notoriously brutal sport, especially for young teenagers who are thrust into the throes of competition. Junior tennis is renowned for being a hotbed of intense and overly active parenting, but Ball’s motivation came from within.

“I started getting serious—started playing more and entering more tournaments—not because I was particularly good at tennis at that time, nor because my parents made me or anything, but because I really loved playing,” he said. “At first, it was always only because I just really liked it.”

Raised by two athletic parents, Ball was encouraged to play several different sports—basketball, baseball, tennis and soccer—at a young age, and, even then, he just really “loved to compete.” But tennis was his strongest sport, the one where his natural competitiveness and drive to win was best suited to excel due to the isolated, one-on-one nature of the game.

Ball downplayed the intensity of his early experience in junior tennis, saying, “Once I started playing a lot of tournaments, that’s when it started to get a lot better, because, I mean, it’s fun to practice and everything, but competition is where you can really see where you’re at and everything, see where you stand.”

When asked if he liked the competitive nature of his life at this early age, Ball responded, “It is really intense, like competitively and all, but at the same time, it’s not that intense, because, you know, you’re just a little kid, and at the end of the day you really don’t care too much about a tennis match or a tennis tournament or anything. Really, at that point, my favorite part was the travel [that junior tournaments required]. I loved that.”

Ball told me about these early tennis experiences while the two of us were rallying out in the strong (for March) California sun, something he is used to, having grown up in the area and gone to high school in neighboring Menlo Park. It was a great treat for me, a tennis player but certainly not a tennis player as Ball is. He was being nice to me, keeping the ball in play and only occasionally rifling backhands with ease past me, perhaps set off by an annoying question I asked him.

Watching him play, it’s obvious why he was such a commodity for college programs coming out of high school; he glides around the court, stinging balls and effortlessly repelling the fiercest of my shots. It was there, on those blue tennis courts under the lights at Taube Family Tennis Center, where Ball always wanted to end up.

“It was always a goal of mine, from the time I started playing tennis competitively, to play in college,” Ball said. “Of course, there’s a professional level, but before that, it’s college tennis. Everyone always talks about college tennis and what a great experience it is . . . Growing up right around here, it’s kind of funny, but I’ve always been set on coming to Stanford, like, ever since I was a little kid. I didn’t even take any other official visits anywhere or anything, I just knew that I really wanted to come here, to play here.”

High school tennis at The Menlo School and playing in a team for the first time instead of in the cutthroat individual game of junior tennis helped Ball cement his dream of coming to Stanford and joining the tennis team.

“Playing for the team there was a lot of fun,” he said. “Before that, you know, tennis is all individual: you go out, you play in tournaments, you compete and, a lot of times, it just gets boring. The team was a great time because you’re with your friends on it, there’s an awesome sense of camaraderie, the coach was awesome—it was just great.”

That experience seems to have carried over into college: “The whole team aspect is definitely awesome, especially with a school like Stanford where everyone is playing at such a high level,” he said. “You’re always around guys who are going to push you, while, at the same time, we’re all really close as a team, we all get along great—we kind of need to since we spend so much time together—but, no, it’s really been awesome, being able to be on this team.”

Ball has played an important role on the Stanford men’s tennis team this year, contributing in singles and doubles play for the No. 10 Cardinal. In the next few years, as he keeps improving his game and accruing experience, he hopes to keep helping the team he has dreamed of playing for ever since he was a 7-year-old kid picking up a racket for the first time.

Login or create an account