DORCHESTER, Mass. -- Spending the last three years as ball girls at the USTA Pro Circuit 50,000 Challenger at the Sportsmen’s Tennis Club in Dorchester, DiAndrea Galloway and Jendayia Lubin never imagined playing in the tournament themselves.
But a few months ago the 15-year-olds from Mattapan and Dorchester, respectively, learned they’d be the wild card doubles team playing in the tournament, which was first played here four years ago and features pro players from around the world.
“I’m not even going to lie, I never thought I’d be able to play in here, but now that we have the chance to I feel like ‘Yes I can do this,’” said Galloway, who is ranked No. 44 in the USTA’s Under-16 rankings, during the tournaments opening day on Wednesday. “They are like a step away from me.
It didn’t matter that they lost to the No. 1-seeded team, 6-1, 6-0, on Wednesday night. Playing in their first pro tournament and the exposure to higher-caliber players is priceless.
“For it to be in our backyard is amazing,” said Lubin, who is No. 45 in the Under-16 rankings. “A lot of girls don’t have this opportunity to say ‘My club is hosting this 50k tournament’ and we get to sit here and hit with most of the players and watch how they play and carry themselves on and off the tennis court. And it opens our eyes, ‘Maybe we can do this.’”
The club’s executive director, Toni Wiley, didn’t worry about the loss to Sharon Fichman and Marie-Eve Pelletier of Canada demoralizing her doubles team.
“We get to know our players really well,” Wiley said. “We wouldn’t put them in this if we thought they weren’t emotionally ready. The emotional part is far more important than their ability to compete.”
Playing at the oldest African American operated non-profit tennis club in the country since they were little kids, Galloway and Lubin are known around the club as DD and JJ. While Galloway started playing when she was around three or four years old, Lubin started when she was five.
“Nobody in my family played tennis, but it was part of my life growing up, it was all they watched when I growing up,” Lubin said. “They were diehard tennis fans. I don’t know why, but they were.”
Lubin and Galloway both started playing tournaments five years ago and they have been playing together as a doubles teams for about four years, traveling all around New England for tournaments and even as far as Miami, Fla.
“We’re the same age, we play at the same club, we’re close friends,” Lubin explained. “We have the same playing style. She likes to serve, I like to serve. We both volley, we’re both aggressive. We both hit hard. We have the same mindset.”
They both just completed their freshman years at different exam schools in the Boston Public Schools system. While Lubin played on the recently-created tennis team at O’Bryant -- leading the Tigers into the state tournament for the first time ever -- Galloway has played No. 1 singles for Latin Academy since seventh grade.
“The girls were like ‘We don’t want a seventh grader playing No. 1 singles’ and then [the coaches] said ‘If you want to be first singles than play against me’ and they played against me and they lost,” Galloway said. “They were all mad, but we ended up being a close team.”
Playing a so-called “country club sport” in an inner-city school can also be tough.
“Some people are like ‘Tennis is so boring I don’t understand it’ or ‘Tennis is so easy all you have to do is hit the ball over the net,’” Lubin said. “I’m like ‘It’s not that simple, there’s a concept just like football.’
“They don’t really take tennis that seriously in my school but football and basketball is the talk of the town.”
Playing at a college where tennis is a little bit more appreciated is a goal for both girls, but turning pro like the women in this week’s tournament is also a dream for both players.
“I would get bent out of shape a little bit if I can’t turn pro like I want to but I would cope with it,” Galloway said.
For now, they are just soaking it all up, especially during this week’s tournament.
“I take a lot out of it,” Galloway said. “[The other players] tell me their experiences on the tennis court and I’m like ‘Wow I’ve never been trough that’ and they tell me how they cope with that and how they got from when they were younger to now.”