By Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern
The goal of USTA League and related adult programs is to provide people of all ages and levels an opportunity to play competitive tennis.
This year Bob Masella was on the court competing for the team he captains: South Carolina (A) Men’s 40 & Over 6.5. Besides his racquet, he brought out his primary mode of transportation: a wheelchair.
Masella has been confined to a wheelchair since a 1983 auto rollover accident. USTA has supported wheelchair play for decades and Masella has reached the pinnacle of that version of the sport, winning the US Open Wheelchair Championships in 1988, 1999 and 2001, he said. “I’ve played (wheelchair) tournaments in just about every state.”
In USTA League and other adult play like the Combo Doubles program, Masella plays run/roll, a nickname for having a wheelchair and an able-bodied player teaming up in doubles.
“The rules are the same except for the double-bounce,” said the 56-year-old from Columbia, S.C. Essentially the rules for wheelchair tennis are the same as those played by all players, except that a wheelchair player can hit the ball after the second bounce. When players play run/roll, the wheelchair player can hit the ball legally before the third bounce, but not the able-bodied player.
Asked what the reaction was from players not expecting an opponent to roll onto court, Masella said, “I usually have to explain rules to them. In Columbia, everybody knows me so I don’t have to go over the rules.”
He said. “A lot of guys walk of the court shaking their heads, saying ‘How did I lose to that guy?’ “
Masella played a match on Friday and only played twice last year, once in the regular season and once in the states. “I’ve really cut down on how many matches I play. I’m not as good as I used to be,” he said. “And I’m working too much.”
A captain of dozens of adult teams, Masella also volunteers as the counsel for USTA South Carolina, starting his fourth year in 2017. He was honored to be named USTA Captain of the Year in 2013 and also won a similar award in his state. What’s more, he can count over 10 times that his teams have advanced to sectionals and three times they’ve won.
Masella was inducted into the Winthrop University Athletic Hall of Fame. In his one season in 1982 as a goalkeeper, Masella was selected to the NSCAA All-America Team, the NSCAA All-Region Team, the NAIA All-Area Team, and the NAIA All-District 6 Team. He ranks first on the school's all-time single season save percentage list (.896).
Tournament Director Chris Walling said this is the first Sectional tournament that he has seen a run/roll team. Masella is probably one of the few USTA League wheelchair players in USTA Southern who actively competes.