NTRP Player Spotlight:
Erin Maher | September 24, 2018
Earlier this year, the USTA launched the NTRP National Championships, a new national adult tournament that leverages the NTRP rating system as a way to create level-based competition. After an overwhelmingly successful inaugural year for the event, USTA.com is highlighting the players who made it special. This week, we caught up with Chris Freeman and Aaron Ogden, two of the founding members of the group “Tennis Mafia,” whose love for tennis brought them to Arizona this year to compete in the men’s 4.0 division.
Chris Freeman and Aaron Ogden were made an offer they couldn’t refuse.
In 2018, the two friends and two of the founding members of “Tennis Mafia,” a community tennis group in Lincoln, Neb., couldn’t resist a chance to play tennis against national opponents. So the pair qualified and played at the inaugural NTRP National Championships.ADVERTISEMENT
Unlike most mafiosos, this particular gang was bred on the tennis court. In 2016, Ogden, 37, and Freeman, 44, found themselves in a local tennis league, and soon caught the tennis bug. They joined a USTA League men’s 4.0 team and found themselves in a group chat of about six guys.
“As part of that first season, a bunch of us started a group chat, a group text,” said Ogden. “Which turned into 300 messages a day.”
Quickly, the group chat expanded from six players to nine, and the moniker “Tennis Mafia” was born.
“It was really just a group of guys who were passionate about tennis, who were trying to find ways to build the game in Lincoln,” said Freeman, “and take it to another level.”
Instead of guns, cannolis and syndicated crime, this Tennis Mafia deals in other types of “racqueteering,” including all things tennis, promoting the sport at the grassroots level for the Lincoln community.
So far, Tennis Mafia has held a local adult tournament and often organizes tennis events at local clubs, including Woods Tennis Center, the Mafia’s home club in Lincoln, where players can hit into the wee hours of the morning during the weekends.
In December, Tennis Mafia held a special event called, “Woodbledon,” a strictly wood-racquet tournament where players were encouraged to wear vintage tennis attire and white tennis attire. The event attracted over 50 participants, and money raised from the tournament was donated to a local tennis organization and courts.
Ogden, Freeman and the rest of the founding members have big plans for Tennis Mafia. Currently, they are in the process of obtaining nonprofit status for the group in hopes to gain better funding. They also hope to expand the group’s offerings by holding more adult tournaments as well as youth clinics.
While Tennis Mafia is looking to continue to cultivate the tennis community in Lincoln and attract new members, Ogden and Freeman wanted to reach out of their immediate pool of opponents and take on the other tennis gangsters battling it out on the national level. That desire brought the pair to the NTRP National Championships, held in Surprise, Ariz. The two competed in the men’s 4.0 division in doubles as a team, and Ogden also competed in singles, representing Missouri Valley.
“Just seeing different players from different states and different regions just was very interesting,” said Freeman. “We don’t have a ton of players in the Nebraska area, so you tend to see the same players each tournament. To go down there to see a whole different style of game, and in some cases, a whole different level, was really exciting and different. It was good for both of us, and just fun to go and play tennis.”
Over the course of the three days of play, Ogden and Freeman made it all the way to the semifinals in both singles and doubles, all while repping their squad, wearing shirts with the group’s logo throughout the whole weekend.
Just like any good mafia leaders, Ogden and Freeman made sure to network and recruited more for their zealous tennis fandom. The shirts they wore were an easy point of conversation as they met people during the tournament, and made a quick seque to find new members of their posse and potential hitting partners when they travel.
“I travel a lot for work, so it was great to network myself,” said Ogden. “To be able to say, ‘Hey, when I’m in Texas give us a call,’ or ‘When I’m in California, in San Francisco, hit us up, we’ll play.’ So that’s the other aspect to the national piece. A lot of people I talk to, they do travel, and I always struggle to find someone to hit with in a city where I know nobody. It was a good experience.”
While the pair would love to return to the NTRP National Championships in the future, one thing is for sure: they’ll still be mobbing the tennis courts in Lincoln for years to come.