Bob Masella with his 3.5 men's team.
Bob Masella has been a USTA League captain since 1999.
Bob Masella, 51, of Columbia, S.C. has been a USTA League captain since 1999 and is currently the captain of a 7.5 combo team and a 3.5 Adult men’s team. He has been competing in USTA Leagues since 1996 and started playing tennis while rehabbing injuries sustained from a car accident while in college that left him in a wheelchair. In USTA Leagues, Masella competes in doubles with and against able-bodied competitors and has never played against another wheelchair competitor. The only difference for Masella is he gets two bounces to return the ball to an able-bodied opponent. Masella, an attorney, loves being a captain and putting together the best possible lineups and strategizing before each match.Tennis is a whole family affair in his house with his wife, Mia, a USTA League 4.0 Adult women’s captain and his two daughters, Mallory and Franny, also compete.
He has been named the USTA League Captain of the Month for July.
USTA.com: What teams do you/have you captained?
Bob Masella: I am now doing the 7.5 combo team and then a 3.5 men’s captain in the fall. I have captained men’s 3.0, 3.5 and also done mixed teams from 6.0 to 7.0 to 7.5. We had a 5.5 team one year and a 6.5 mixed team. I have been captain of all those, dating back to 1999, we had our first 3.0 men’s team; we called ourselves the Bad News Bonding Bears. USTA Leagues I have been playing since 1996, and they implemented the two bounce rule for wheelchair competitors in 1999, my first year as a captain. Before that, I was playing with one bounce but it made it a lot more convenient to have the second bounce.
USTA.com: What is it like competing against and with players who aren’t wheelchair players?
Bob Masella: I have never played someone else in a chair in USTA Leagues. I play in other wheelchair tournaments but that’s not USTA Leagues. I am pretty much the only one in South Carolina who plays in USTA leagues. I was chair of the wheelchair committee of South Carolina, trying to get more people involved in USTA leagues. When you play just wheelchair tourneys, you only play matches every few weeks or months, but with leagues you get to play every week. That’s the reason I started to concentrate and enjoy it. You get people you enjoy being with and socialize with people you enjoy being with. The social aspect is really what is all about but we like to win too, it combines the two.
Two bounces throws a lot of folks off, sometimes they will turn their back before I strike it, so I make sure guys know the rule. I do stay back more, I don’t really play singles in USTA Leagues, I don’t have the drive on the ball, so singles isn’t really an option but with a partner, I have good touch and I can hit angles but I just can’t cover the whole court against 3.5 or 4.0 people. At 3.0 I could do it but I am not at that level anymore. Against other wheelchair players, they have the same amount of time, two bounces, that I have but they don’t have the drive in their legs, so I am able to play more of a regular match, play singles, go to the net, track down drop shots and lobs.
A partner is usually someone I practice with a lot before I start the season so they know what it is like. I do stay back more but if the opponent’s back is turned, I can come in and they don’t know I am at the net. I put a lot of spin to make up for lack of power but I can still hit the ball very well.
With women I will probably have three folks I play with during the season who are used to playing with men, same thing with the men’s league. Anybody can play with me. We’ve gone to sectionals and regionals. If I am out there rallying, I would prefer to play against women, as it involves more technique and is just a cleaner game than guys have, who often are just trying to overpower you. In mixed, I play women as much as I can. If I am the 3.0 or 3.5 player, the woman would probably be the 3.5 or 4.0. If the ball is in front of me, I have the whole court to put it where it needs to go. I have played in the big matches, I think I was the first wheelchair player to win the deciding court in a sectional final in 2005. We won the match 5 and 5. That’s the record they have.
USTA.com: How did you start playing tennis? Why do you love playing?
Bob Masella: When I was in rehab following my accident, I saw this video on Brad Parks, he was playing and I thought this was great. I was a soccer player before I got hurt, I was an all-American goalie at Winthrop College . I got hurt in May 1983. I had hacked around as a kid on the tennis court but I was never too serious about it. I became more serious as I wanted to get involved it.
The day of the accident, I was headed down to the beach with a friend after the spring semester was over, he was driving my car, it had a sunroof. The dealer had said,’Make sure you have your seatbelt on, you could go out the sunroof if something happens.’ The car went off the road, and I grabbed the wheel and pulled the car back on the road, but it skidded off the side and hit a tree stump, I went launched out off the top, through the sunroof. I didn’t have a seatbelt on. I went through sunroof and I was thinking, ‘Turn yourself’ and I just braced myself, pushed over the back of the car, rolled and then I stopped. My back was hurting; the ambulance guys said ‘Move your fingers, move your toes’ and I did. They said ‘Move your toes again’ and I said I was but they said they weren’t moving. I was in the hospital then for 99 days. My whole summer vacation was in the hospital. I went back to school the next semester. I started playing tennis to try to get involved in sports again and I coached the other soccer goalies.
If the accident hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t be who I am now. You have to find the silver lining. There are all sorts of possibilities. It made me slow down and think about what I was doing and gave me direction as what I wanted to do.
USTA.com: Have you ever been to the National Championships?
Bob Masella: In mixed we went to regionals and in combos we made sectionals We won sectionals in mixed three times, we won sectionals in combo, 6.5 in 2009 but I have not made it Nationals.
USTA.com: What do you enjoy most about being a USTA League Captain?
Bob Masella: I like putting the puzzle together. I am attorney, which is what I do. It is a math equation being a captain. You figure out the best way to put your team on the court. I always liked high school sports. We still get to be athletes and have fun and I get to direct people as to what we are going to do and try to accomplish. I like winning, I like seeing people happy. I make sure I play least out of everybody on the team. I do it to put together a team and figure out a way to win it. I like getting the people together and putting a team out there that will win.
Everybody around town thinks I go out and find the sandbaggers. We always win but I’m just a good recruiter.
I have been trying to get other people involved. You can tell everyone else you can be a success as a wheelchair player. Everyone is not giving it to you because you’re in a chair. If you can get to the ball, if your returns are unorthodox or you lob them, you have a good chance to beat able-bodied players.
USTA.com: Who is your favorite tennis player?
Bob Masella: I have two, John McEnroe because of his attitude and his great hands and technique and Randy Snow because he's done what no other champion has done and frankly he was the gentleman I aspire to be.
USTA.com: What is your favorite surface to play on?
Bob Masella: Because I use a wheelchair to get around the perception is hard courts are easier to get around on, however, I enjoy clay courts the best, the ball sits up and clay slows the speed of the ball.
USTA.com: What kind of racquet do you use?
Bob Masella: I have been a member of Team Prince for years. My friend Peg Connor has been a solid supporter of wheelchair tennis and has been instrumental in bringing us to the forefront of the tennis community. She also appreciates my drive to succeed as one of the wheelchair athletes who will not be satisfied to succeed in the wheelchair tennis arena but play against able bodied players and succeed.
USTA.com; What is your favorite tennis tournament and why?
Bob Masella: The ROHO tournament held on Hilton Head island every year. The tournament was originally held at Dennis Van der Mear's tennis facility and it was the first tournament I played in after my injury. I continued playing in this tournament for years and watched it grow into an international event. The PTR is a solid backer of wheelchair tennis and the tournament is always one of the best to attend and the location has no parallel.
USTA.com; What is your favorite professional sports team, if any?
Bob Masella: I admit, I'm a New York Mets fan. I was also a New York Cosmos fan. I had the opportunity to play and work with Pele many years ago who was a member of the Cosmos at the time.
USTA.com: What is the best part of your tennis game?
Bob Masella: I try to emulate John McEnroe's touch.
USTA.com: If you could choose any doubles partner, who would it be?
Bob Masella: It depends on which event I'm playing. If I was playing mixed it would be Althea Gibson, If it were men's, I would choose Arthur Ashe. My connection to both of these champions is that they accomplished what others thought was not possible. They were viewed as someone not capable or worthy because of something totally irrelevant to what they were seeking. They further handled their challenges with dignity and did not let others impressions affect their determination to break through despite those who could not see the abilities and talents these champions possessed. I am inspired by them both and would be honored to kick some butt with either of them as my partner.
USTA.com: What is the best aspect of playing USTA League tennis?
Bob Masella: I most enjoy the social aspect of USTA League Tennis and I enjoy the opportunity to compete on a regular basis. Furthermore I enjoy watching everyone get upset that a guy in a wheelchair is beating them.
USTA.com; If you could attend one Grand Slam tournament, what would it be and why?
Bob Masella: Wimbledon because of the history and atmosphere.