Top 20 Wishes for the 2012 Tennis Season

Christmas is now in the rear-view mirror, and the new year is almost upon us. That must mean that it’s time to role out my wish list for the 2012 tennis season. Last year, I had a warm and fuzzy feeling when I put together my wish list. This year, I have a bit of an anxious feeling. Why? Buried in the depths of my brain is an unrelenting fear that history will repeat itself. Truth be told, the 2011 season was a mishmash of ups and downs (Djokovic being the exception, with his super-human season). There were moments of brilliance mixed in with moments of drama (and not always the good kind), along with some head-scratching moments that won’t soon be forgotten. But, I must admit, there is something special about starting fresh. A new year makes predictions seem plausible, and wishes seem possible.

Looking back on 2011, a few of my tennis wishes did, in fact, come true. Caroline Wozniacki held onto the No. 1 ranking for a full year (albeit with much scrutiny). No one broke the Isner/Mahut match record at Wimbledon (thankfully). Juan Martin del Potro came back strong, and without any major injury. Three players won their maiden Grand Slams (Li Na, Kvitova, Stosur). Esther Vergeer still hasn’t lost a match since 2003. And a few more tennis folks joined the Twitter fray (although there are still a few holdouts).

There were a few wishes that didn’t exactly go my way. Dinara Safina did not make a full recovery from her long-standing back problems (not easy to be wrong on that one). And thinking that Andy Roddick would score another BIG win didn’t seem so far-fetched at the end of last year, but it wasn’t to be.

Here is a list of things I'd like to see happen during the 2012 season:

1) Dinara Safina’s return. I’m not giving up on this one. But, the former No. 1 has had so many starts and stops due to her back injury, it seems unlikely that a return in 2012 is in the cards. Maybe throwing a few extra pennies into a wishing well might do the trick.

2) Boris Becker doing more commentating. The guy is just plain funny, and he knows a few things about winning tennis matches.

3) Caroline Wozniacki winning her first Grand Slam. I’m assuming that her new coach, Ricardo Sanchez is making that a top priority. I don’t think Caroline would have hired him if she didn’t think he could take her game to the next level.

4) Roger Federer winning Slam No. 17. Let’s face it. The guy was unstoppable towards the end of 2011. And, he has won the Australian Open four times. I’d say he’s in a good position to win it again.

5) Alisa Kleybanova making a full recovery and returning to competition. Beating cancer is better than winning a Grand Slam any day.

6) Players who made a big stink about tournament schedules or feeling a loss of control during rain delays at the U.S. Open have left these issues hanging, with no resolution in sight. Sure, players have individual preferences (or agendas), but I wish for the players to come together, along with the new ATP CEO, Brad Drewett to tackle these ongoing issues and come up with some resolutions.

7) I admit, I have a soft spot for Andy Murray. I would like to see him win his first Grand Slam in 2012. And for once, he should call himself a Scotsman, instead of saying he’s British (unless, of course, he wins Wimbledon).

8) John Isner breaking into the top 10. Since winning Newport and the Winston-Salem Open, he’s been kicking his game into high gear. To have another American player in the ATP’s top 10 would give us all hope that American tennis is making a serious comeback.

9) Kim Clijsters’ final season is upon us. She means it this time. For real. There are rumors that the Olympics will be her swan song, but I’m hoping that she’ll hang on long enough to play the U.S. Open.

10) Ana Ivanovic. Probably the nicest person on the WTA Tour, but she seems to have trouble letting go of negative thoughts. My wish is for her to focus more on the positive, and not take herself so seriously.

11) I’d like to see more players and coaches on Twitter. Sure, there are always going to be weirdos or bullies sending nasty tweets. Ignore them, or block them. Twitter helps to promote the game and its players, plain and simple.

12) Venus Williams. Obviously we’d all like to see her conquer her health battles. I’d like to see her climb back in the rankings, at least into the top 50. I’m hoping she can get her singles ranking back in time to qualify for the Olympics.

13) Yes, it is an Olympic year. It’s a time when being an American takes on a whole new level of importance (for me, anyway). Serena or Mardy: Bring it.

14) Speaking of social media…I’d like to see tennis seize a new marketing opportunity by putting “@WTA” or "@ATPWorldTour", or a particular tournament’s Twitter handle on center court somewhere. Sponsors may want to get in on the act, too.

15) I’d like to see a change in the U.S. Open schedule. A “planned” Monday final for the men has been tossed around in recent months. This could work well for sponsors, TV, and fans. Can they put up a roof to deal with rain delays? Maybe not on Arthur Ashe stadium, but certainly on the newly constructed Court 17.

16) And how about some consistency in adhering to the rules during match play? Some things are left to the discretion of the umpires, but really, I wish the umpires would have a meeting and agree on how to do their job.

17) I wish that one ball person could say something nice about Andy Roddick. I completely understand that playing on Arthur Ashe stadium can be stressful, but it’s also stressful for Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray (and about 100 other players). They manage to treat ball people nicely.

18) I’d like to witness one more Rafa/Federer Grand Slam final. Simply put, it is the greatest rivalry in tennis.

19) One of the ATP’s young guns – Donald Young to be exact. Does he have what it takes to be a top 20 player? I’m hoping he does. Will drama follow? Well, that’s a given.

20) Vera Zvonareva. I think she’s ready for a Grand Slam title. She’s come close on a few occasions. If she can manage to clear out the negative thoughts when her head is covered in a towel during changeovers, I think she can do it.

Radwanska’s Game Is On the Upswing

Originally published: On the Baseline Tennis News December 8, 2011
Here we go again. It’s the off-season. Or is it the pre-season? It passes by with a blink of an eye, while players rest and recharge for the start of a new season. Agnieszka Radwanksa, a consistent top 10er and one of the world’s most underrated players, is hoping to capitalize on one of the best seasons of her young career when January rolls around.
The 22-year-old from Poland is known to most as Aggie, or simply, Aga. She isn’t the most powerful player on the WTA Tour, but Radwanska has the finesse and confidence to beat just about anyone. In fact, Radwanska toppled an impressive cast of imposing rivals this year, with nine wins over top 10 players, and six over top five players–second only to Petra Kvitova, who had 13 wins. She is also the only Polish player in the WTA’s top 100 (her sister Ursula is ranked No. 109).
The latter part of this season was especially good for Radwanska. She pulled off two improbable wins during the Asian swing, winning back-to-back titles at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo (d. Zvonareva), and the China Open (d. Petkovic). That’s 1,900 ranking points, for those keeping track. And it didn’t go unnoticed that Radwanska’s pockets got a bit deeper, too. She earned a whopping $6,550,000 in prize money in the span of two weeks. With 11-staight match wins, Radwanska jumped from No. 13 to No. 8 in the rankings, equaling her career high from February, 2010.
Earlier in the season, Radwanska had begun to experience some problems with her right shoulder while playing in Carlsbad, despite winning the title there (her first title since Eastbourne, 2008). Radwanska had managed to maintain good form at the Roger’s Cup in Toronto, beating Andrea Petkovic in the quarterfinals in straight sets, but lost to Sam Stosur in the semifinals. She was then forced to pull out of the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati due to her shoulder injury.
In a recent interview, Radwanska said that she has been suffering from inflammation of shoulder bursa. “I got an injection and everything should be okay within 4-6 weeks. At the moment, I play at 80 percent of my ability and try not to exert my shoulder too much.”
During the U.S. Open, Radwanska made an impressive (and surprising) semifinal run in doubles with Daniela Hantuchova. During her post-match press conference, Radwanska was pleased with her results in doubles and wasn’t having much shoulder trouble, but was hesitant to talk about the much-hyped split with her coach/father. In a recent interview with a Polish newspaper, Radwanska cleared up the coaching rumors. “Nothing’s going to change,” she said. “When I’m in Cracow [Poland], I always train with my dad. My traveling coach will be Tomasz Wiktorowski [Poland's Fed Cup Coach], who helps me at the tournaments. If what I did worked, why should I change it?” You can’t argue with that.
Radwanska’s year culminated in Istanbul, at the Year-End-Championships. Just prior to the event, she was neck and neck with Marion Bartoli to qualify for the 8th and final spot. When Bartoli withdrew from the Kremlin cup due to illness, Radwanska was in. This was her first year earning direct qualification into the YEC, while Bartoli was an alternate. Radwanska played well,  but missed out on a semifinal spot by losing to eventual champion, Petra Kvitova.
But Radwanska isn’t complaining. She wrapped up her season ranked 8th in the world with a 46-18 record.
Radwanska has shown what a fighter she can be, playing through injury, and taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. She has the game to go the distance, if she can remain injury-free.
Her goals for 2012: “For sure in the next year I’m going to be focused more on the Grand Slams and trying to step forward, being top 8, or top 5.”
As an added bonus, Radwanska was voted “WTA Fan Favorite Singles Player” in November. Her underrated player status? That may just be a thing of the past.

Late Season Success

December 5, 2111

Another tennis season has come and gone. Surprisingly, there were some highly contested matches late in the season, as well as some unexpected winners. Unfortunately, these late-season surges often don’t get the same level of attention that they might get in, say, mid-summer. Why? There is a common sentiment among fans that the tennis season unofficially ends after the U.S. Open. All four Grand Slams have been contested, so really, what’s left to be excited about?

The Asian swing, which immediately follows the U.S. Open, is typically met with as much enthusiasm as giving a dog a bath. For the most part, TV viewing is scarce, and most matches (depending on the time zone) are televised live in the wee hours of the morning. Unless you are one of the lucky ones sitting in the stands at these tournaments, or are willing to watch tennis on TV, or your computer at 3:00am (been there, done that), the post-U.S. Open tournaments are generally an after-thought.

Not so for players. Even though they are exhausted, battered, and bruised, and ready to give up after almost a year traversing the globe, they don’t. The final stretch of the tennis season presents an opportunity for players to chase down some last-minute ranking points, as well as a last-ditch effort for some players to prove to themselves what they couldn’t prove earlier in the season.

Below is a list of eight players who were able to achieve a late-season comeback, or simply got their second wind at a time when the tennis spotlight wasn’t so bright.

The No. 1 ranked player from Japan had a very strong run at the end of this season. Following his two singles wins in Davis Cup, Nishikori reached the semis in Kuala Lumpur (d. Almagro), the semis in Shanghai (d. Tsonga) and made it to the final as a wildcard at the Swiss Indoors Basel, where he defeated Berdych and Djokovic (the biggest win of his career), before advancing to the final, where he lost to Federer. This was Nishikori’s first time playing against Federer, who had home-court advantage, and had previously won the Basel tournament four times.

Nishikori is the first Asian to defeat the No 1 player since Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand, who defeated Lleyton Hewitt in the Tokyo quarterfinal in 2002. Nishikori has the honor of becoming Japan's highest-ever ranked male player. Novak Djokovic has described him as “One of the most improved players this year.”

Nishikori achieved a career high ranking of No. 24 in mid-November, and ended the year at No. 25. He began the season ranked at No. 98.

One of the most underrated players in the women’s game has had one of the best late-season results of any player on the WTA Tour. Radwanska, who had been fighting through a right shoulder injury since winning Carlsbad, continued to play through the rest of the season with a taped shoulder. She went on to win back-to-back titles in Asia (Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo (d. Zvonareva), and the China Open (d. Petkovic). She also snagged the 8th and final spot into the Year End Championships in Istanbul. Radwanska played well, but missed out on a semifinal spot by losing to eventual champion, Petra Kvitova.

Radwanska finished the season ranked 8th in the world with a 46-18 W/L record.

The No. 2 ranked ATP player from Serbia had a phenomenal season, which ended with a serendipitous opportunity to play in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Tipsarevic also won two tournaments late in the season – the Malaysian Open and the Kremlin Cup. His lucky break arrived when Andy Murray pulled out of the World Tour Finals after his first match due to a groin injury. Tipsarevic then replaced Murray in round robin Group A. During the tournament, Tipsarevic scored his first win over a reigning world No 1 and fellow countryman, Novak Djokovic.

Tipsarevic started the year ranked at No. 49, and finished at No. 9, a career-high, with a 54-26 W/L record.

During the Asian swing, Tsonga took his game to a new level. He advanced to the Beijing semifinals, then went onto face Federer in the Paris final. Tsonga’s greatest success came when he qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Despite being defeated in the first RR match by Federer, he advanced to the semifinal with victories over Fish and Nadal. He defeated Berdych in the semifinal to play Federer. Despite the loss, Tsonga hit 42 aces in London, and had a season-best 825 aces.

He finished the season with a 55-24 W/L record, ranked at No. 6, equaling his career-high ranking from November, 2008.

Arguably one of the best players on the WTA Tour, Petra Kvitova went into a bit of a slump after winning the Wimbledon title. She lost in the first round of the U.S. Open, without winning a set. The six-foot lefty regained her form at the Toray Pan Pacific Open by advancing to the semis, before losing to Zvonareva. She picked up her fifth title of 2011 at the Generali Ladies Linz, defeating Cibulkova. During the Year End Championships in Istanbul, Kvitova solidified her dominance by defeating Vera Zvonareva, Caroline Wozniacki, and Agnieszka Radwansk, and Samantha Stosur en route to her first WTA Championships final, where she defeated Victoria Azarenka. She finished off the season by helping the Czech Republic Fed Cup team win title, and was named WTA Player of the Year.

Kvitova, who is quickly climbing the legend ladder, ended the year ranked at No. 2 – a career high. Not bad, after starting the year ranked at No. 34.

Always on the cusp of greatness, Murray earned back-to-back titles in Bangkok, Tokyo, and Shanghai. He was a "double" winner in Tokyo, taking both the singles and doubles title along with his brother, Jamie. He didn’t end the season on a high note (withdrawing from the World Tour Finals with a groin injury), and had another slam-less season, but his moments of brilliance during the Asian swing could be a sign of what’s to come in 2012. He made the final last year at the Australian Open. With just a bit more brilliance, he’ll be able to raise a Grand Slam trophy.

Murray had a brief stint ranked at No. 3 in November (his career-high is No. 2), but ended the year ranked at No. 4, with a 56/13 W/L record.

Talk about a comeback. Tomas Berdych won the China Open – his first title since winning the BMW Open in 2009, ending a 29-month title drought. He also reached 50-match wins for the first time in a season, and secured a spot at the World Tour Finals in London. In his second consecutive appearance at Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, he reached the semifinals, but was defeated by Tsonga.

Berdych has held a top 10 ranking for the entire 2011 season, ending at No. 7, with a 53-23 W/L record, a career-best.

With more confidence and consistency in her game, Ana Ivanovic soared upwards at the end this season, winning the Commonwealth Bank Tournament Of Champions in Bali as a wildcard. This was her second consecutive title win in Bali, and her first title of 2011. She defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues in the final on her 24th birthday.

Ivanovic ended the season ranked at No. 22.

U.S. Open: Women's Semifinal Rewind

Originally Published: On the Baseline Tennis News
September 11, 2011
Flushing Meadows, NY—A little extra rain in the morning hours couldn’t stop Super Semifinal Saturday at the U.S. Open. While the men played the afternoon session, the women kicked off the night session, with Sam Stosur taking on first-time opponent, Angelique Kerber under the lights of Grandstand Stadium. That match was followed by Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Due to the rain delays earlier in the week, the U.S. Open was forced to find an alternate venue for one of the women’s semifinal matches. Armstrong was out of commission due to a water damaged court, so Grandstand it was. It didn’t have the grandeur of Arthur Ashe Stadium, but the intimacy of the court (with no reserved seating) made it a special treat for fans to get an up close view.
World No. 92 Angelique Kerber made her Grand Slam semifinal debut last night, upsetting both Aggie Radwanska and Flavia Pennetta en route to the semifinal. Prior to the U.S. Open, the 23-year-old leftie had lost in the first round of the last four Grand Slams, and had won only one match in her three previous US Open appearances. This time around, she won five matches in a row.
Sam Stosur  was playing her third Grand Slam semifinal (first U.S. Open semifinal) and defeated Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals to get to this stage.  She is the first Australian woman to reach U.S. Open semifinals since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, the same year that Stosur was born.
When the match began, Stosur took the first two games easily, and an early 3-0 lead, but Kerber held her serve, winning her first game against Stosur at 3-1. In the sixth game, Kerber held again, but Stosur maintained a comfortable lead in the first set at 4-2. Kerber began to show some signs of frustration, with more audible screeches after every racquet swing. It didn’t seem to help much. Stosur took the game, bringing the score to 5-2. Momentum began to shift in Kerber’s favor, when she scored her first ace of the match and won the game at 5-3, but Stosur prevailed, taking the first set 6-3.
As the more experienced player, Stosur seemed to be on her way to a straight set victory, but lost some concentration and momentum in the second set. Kerber, with a triple break point, took a 3-1 lead and was dictating points. Stosur held serve at 4-2, but with Stosur’s shaky forehand, Kerber went on to win the next two games, breaking Stosur (and the handle of her racquet) to take the second set 6-2.
Stosur switched gears in the third set, and consistently dominated at the net, winning 27 out of 29 net approaches. She quickly advanced to a 5-0 lead, but couldn’t close it out, giving Kerber the next two games. In what seemed to be the longest game of the match, Stosur fought back, to win the set 6-2, and the match.
After the match, Kerber admitted to having some nerves. “The first few games was too fast for me,” said Kerber. “I came out there and it was everything new for me, so many people and the lights.”
Sam Stosur is the fifth Australian woman in the Open Era to reach U.S. Open final after Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Kerry Reid, and Wendy Turnbull.
“It’s great now that I’ve got a second chance to try and win one of these titles. I’ll definitely go out there and give it my best shot,” said Stosur.
Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki played the second semifinal match of the night on Arthur Ashe stadium. Both are very fit players, but there was no denying that Serena, with 13 Grand Slam titles and three U.S. Open titles was the favorite going into the match. She also had an 18-0 W/L record on hard courts this year, and had not dropped a set leading up to the semis.
No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki was bidding to reach her second U.S. Open final (runner up in ’09). She defeated Kuznetsova and Petkovic en route to the semifinals, and had only lost one set.
At the start of the first set, Serena took an early 2-1 lead. Wozniacki put some pressure on in the fourth game (which lasted over six minutes), but Serena prevailed, taking a 4-1 lead. During the changeover, Serena called for the trainer for pain in her right foot, followed by a medical time out to deal with toe pain. Serena quickly rebounded and took the first set 6-2. It was apparent that Wozniacki was playing to survive more than to win. She simply didn’t have enough power to battle back against Serena, earning zero winners in the first set, compared to Serena’s 15.
In the second set, Serena took a 3-1 lead, and in the blink of an eye, advanced to 5-3. She had been dominating at the net throughout the match, winning 17 out of 21 net approaches, compared to Wozniacki, who won just 1 out of 3. Serena was serving for the match at 5-3 when Wozniacki broke Serena, but it wasn’t enough. Serena won the match 6-2, 6-4.
“That serve was just a killer,” said Wozniacki, in her post-match press conference..
Having won the semifinal, Serena Williams is projected to rise to No.16. No. 12 if she wins the title.

Top Players Recall Memories of 9/11

Flushing Meadows, NY—As we near the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, players competing at the U.S. Open are keenly aware of how the devastating events of that day impacted the world. Sam Stosur, Vera Zvonareva, Serena Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki took the time to share their memories of that day — where they were when it happened, and what the experience was like for them.

Sam Stosur
“I was playing a 10,000s tournament in Japan. I woke up to the TV. One of the other Aussie girls there was calling the room and saying, ‘Turn on the TV and look what’s going on.’ Obviously it was unbelievable. I was only 17 at the time. There were four or five of us traveling around in a group together and had no idea what was going to happen. We all thought planes aren’t going fly ever again and didn’t know. Obviously watching those images, going out to play your matches at a 10,000 event all of a sudden became pretty irrelevant.  And obviously watching the TV recently, you see all the shows and documentaries about it again. It certainly brings it all back. It’s kind of strange to be back here in New York on the 10th anniversary. It’s great to see how people have moved on. Obviously it was a really sad time, but obviously everyone’s getting through it.”
Serena Williams
“You know, I think everyone that lives in America has been affected by 9/11.  I was in D.C. at the time, and I just remember seeing a lot of Army trucks. You know, it was what it was. It’s hard to believe it’s 10 years later, but, you know, it’s good…good we are kind of coming together and New Yorkers and New York have been so strong.”
Vera Zvonareva
“9/11 was a terrible tragedy for everyone around the world. I was playing a junior event here [at the U.S. Open], and flew out the day before. As soon as I landed, it was on TV all over in Russia. We got off the plane and were watching it on TV. I felt like we were still here. We just left and there were a lot of players that were still staying there. It’s terrible what happened. I think everyone remembers it. Everyone is still thinking about those who died there.”

Caroline Wozniacki
"I was actually practicing [in Denmark], and I was going home from practice and my brother was in his room.  His room was on the first floor when you went in.  He was watching TV. I asked him, What are you watching?  What movie is that?  He said, ‘It’s not a movie. It’s happening.’ Me and my Dad said, No, come on. Stop joking. It’s not funny.  We were changing the channels and it was just on every channel. We were pretty much shocked what was going on. We have quite a few friends here, so we called them and asked if everyone was okay. And, you know, the people I knew here, they were all safe.  But, you know, still, so many people died. 9/11 is coming up Sunday…10 years.  It’s gone past very fast.”

U.S. Open Tribute
On Sunday, September 11, the U.S. Open will pay homage to those who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks, as well as to those people who risked their lives to save the victims of the attack. In addition to a moment of silence prior to the men’s and women’s singles championships matches, Arthur Ashe Stadium will have “9-11-01″ inscribed on the court. The 9/11 memorial logo, created by the city of New York, will be placed on the upper ring of Arthur Ashe stadium. A military flyover is also planned. A giant American flag will also be displayed over the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium by a United States Marines Corps color guard.

Denise Castelli's sideline view second to none


September 5, 2011
(Originally published in
Chasing down tennis balls at the U.S. Open wasn't exactly part of 25-year-old Denise Castelli's plan for this summer. Of course, the same could be said for much of the past three years of her life: not part of the plan.
In 2008, Castelli was a senior studying criminal justice at the University of New Haven. She excelled at sports, particularly softball. In April of that year, while playing in a college game, Castelli made a move -- one that she had made a thousand times before -- sliding into second base on a steal. Only this time, her right leg got caught underneath her. In an instant, her life changed forever.
"It happened so fast," Castelli said. "I went down, and felt this unbelievable pain. I knew immediately that I had broken my leg." She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered she had a spiral fracture that required surgery to insert a rod below her right knee. Concerned but calm, Castelli assumed her leg would heal normally, and she could go back to an active life.
By August, her leg still hadn't healed properly and her family was beginning to worry the situation was much worse than they'd originally thought. Further tests revealed a serious infection in her right leg where the rod had been inserted. For the next 15 months, Castelli was virtually immobile, checking in and out of the hospital as doctors tried to combat the infection before it spread further. "I was in the hospital for two weeks, then I'd be discharged for a month. Then I'd be in for a month and come back for a week," she said. "There was never a time when I wasn't sick in that whole period."
Her prognosis turned grim in February 2009. "That's when I started to worry that maybe I was not going to be the same. Maybe my leg was too damaged to play softball again," Castelli said.
Denise CastrelliDenise Castelli competed with 500 applicants for one of the 80 ball person spots at this month's U.S. Open.
But it was more serious than even that: Doctors had to amputate two of her toes, and later, her foot. Incredibly, the worst was still to come. The infection in her leg proved to be uncontrollable. In November 2009, doctors had no choice but to amputate her right leg below the knee. Friends and family from her hometown of Netcong, N.J., showed support by staging a fundraiser and raising close to $12,000 to help cover Castelli's mounting medical expenses and prosthetics.
After nearly a year and a half of suffering, Castelli was actually optimistic about her chances of a normal post-amputation life. "From the get-go, I knew I was going to be OK after the operation," she said. "I believed my doctor when he said, 'You'll be fine. Eventually, you'll play ball again. You'll run again.'" What she didn't realize was how long "eventually" would take.
Long road back
"I had to be patient, even though it was really frustrating," Castelli said. Going through the recovery process was mentally exhausting. "There were times when I would think to myself that I wouldn't be able to do these things again. Even playing softball. I would always say, 'If I can't get out there and be as good as I used to be, I don't want to do it. It'll just bring me down.' It definitely took a lot of time and a ton of physical therapy."
Castelli remembers when she first began physical therapy, and the demanding process of learning how to walk again. "I had a cane, and I really relied on it. I didn't have that much confidence in my prosthetic."

If it changes one person's mind about the way they look at disabilities, it was definitely worth it.
-- Denise Castelli
Talking with other amputees helped Castelli gain confidence in her new limb, but the physical therapy was grueling.
"In the beginning, I could walk really well for 2½ hours, then I'd have to take my leg off," she said. "Once I started building up strength in rehab, I could wear the leg for longer. And now, I can wear it all day, even lately when I'm walking around New York City and going up and down stairs."
Her reward for all that rehab? After more than two years of being out of the game, Castelli is back to playing softball, recently joining a local league to test her athletic skills. When she first picked up a bat, she admitted to having some nerves, but didn't feel any difference once she stood on the field.
"It was like riding a bike," she said. "I just started hitting. My first at-bat of the season, I hit a home run. I couldn't believe it!"
In June, an opportunity arose to handle a different kind of ball, this one at the U.S. Open. Castelli joined more than 500 candidates vying for just 80 positions at her first U.S. Open ball-person tryouts. Within weeks, she received news from the U.S. Tennis Association that she'd made the final cut.
Castelli temporarily put softball on hold to focus on her new duties. Wise move, since the job is harder than you might think.
[+] EnlargeDenise CastelliCourtesy of Denise Castrelli
Denise Castelli is playing softball again, but has a new prosthetic running leg and an eye on the Paralympics.
"During warm-ups, we get balls for players," she explained. "Once the match starts, the work depends on the game. On odd game numbers, we sprint off the court; sometimes players will need more water, or [we'll] hold umbrellas over players. If it's an even game, the serve is going to change sides, but we don't leave the court. I either throw all of my balls down to the ball person on the other end, or they throw theirs to me."
At the tryouts, Castelli and other candidates went through a series of tests for arm strength, throwing ability and speed. "They give you three tennis balls to throw, then people throw balls at you," she said. After the tryout and callback, she still had to get through the qualifying rounds in order to make the cut for the main draw, which she did.
Coming full circle
For Castelli, who has never played tennis before, being a ball person at the U.S. Open has given her a chance to test herself physically and emotionally. "I get to prove to myself that I can do these things, but also to show other people that I am out there running, using my feet with able-bodied people," Castelli said. "If it changes one person's mind about the way they look at disabilities, then it was definitely worth it."
Fortunately, Castelli's softball skills -- speed, agility and a good throwing arm -- have come in handy as a ball person, working behind the baseline. "Physically, it's less difficult than I anticipated," she said. "But mentally, you really have to be in the game at all times. You have to know the score, and you have to know when there's going to be a ball change or a side change."
While the U.S. Open ends next week, this marks only the beginning of Castelli's return to athletics. "The Paralympics are always in the back of my mind," she said. "I would love to eventually get there." Her sport of choice: track and field. "I just got a new prosthetic running leg a few weeks ago, and I can't wait to learn how to use," she said.
In the meantime, Castelli is focused on first serves and net balls. This is one time she's proud to be on the sidelines.