ASHLAND Keep your eye on the ball.

Children active in sports, especially baseball and tennis, hear the expression ad nauseum.

That phrase is precisely the most important duty for 100 or so young volunteers in the Braidy Industries $60,000 Women’s Tennis Classic this week at Ashland Tennis Center.

By Wednesday, the third full day of the tournament, Larra Ferguson and Julie Ditty Qualls were supervising a well-oiled machine.

“You see all these kids come out, and it just wouldn’t happen without them,” said Josh Qualls, the tournament director.

Ferguson, Russell’s girls tennis coach, teamed up with Ditty Qualls months ago to begin the process of accumulating “ball kids.” The 2019 response was even more favorable than last year, both in number and age.

“All the kids this year are over 10,” Ferguson said. “They just know what they’re doing out there better. ... These kids have been troopers. Some of them are here from 9 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Ferguson estimated 30 ball kids have worked full days every day. Approximately 40 kids work in a given day. A large portion of them are high school or college students.

Ditty Qualls said parents of prospective volunteers were initially hesitant to express the level of their children’s commitment.

“A lot of the parents are like, we’re not sure if they want to do it or not, and now they want to be here every day,” Ditty Qualls said.

Ferguson and Ditty Qualls assembled a schedule that places three to four kids on each one of the four courts simultaneously. Typically, there is one on each end of the court and one or two adjacent to the net in the middle.

“They’re on 30 minutes, off 30 minutes,” Ferguson said. “It’s continuous all day long.”

Ferguson appoints leaders to each group. Maci and Mia Ferguson, Larra’s daughters, are a couple of those leaders.

Ball kids, all wearing royal blue shirts, come from all over the tri-state area.

“Some of them play on their high school teams, some of them did clinics I taught this summer,” Ditty Qualls said.

They must be constantly aware of what’s happening in the match. They’ll sprint out to grab a ball off a net, or shuffle over and grab a loose ball. They have to quickly retrieve and toss in balls.

“The referees have complimented them,” Ferguson said Wednesday. “They brought a huge bag of chocolate candy for them this morning.”

Ditty Qualls said consuming the riveting action produced by professional players will “hopefully inspired them and encourage them to get out and practice a little bit more. A lot of them had never seen a pro tennis match. It’s definitely eye-opening for them to be here and be on the court with them. When they’re off during a rotation, they’re seeing players stretching, talking to their coaches, warming up. They’re getting a taste of everything.”

The Fergusons are getting an even fuller effect. They housed two players last year and three — Victoria Duval, Brynn Boren and Maria Sanchez — during this summer’s event.

“Mia fixed eggs for breakfast for them today,” Larra Ferguson said. “We’ve made Rice Krispie treats. ... We’ve gone through a lot of food, a lot of fruit. It’s been a great experience.”

Two-hour duels

Three different hard-fought matches spanned at least two hours on Wednesday, which featured round-of-32 singles play and round-of-16 doubles play. Abbie Myers eliminated Yuxuan Zhang, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, in the day’s longest contest — a 2-hour, 27-minute clash. Katie Swan beat Magdalena Frech, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. Hanna Chang toppled Gabriela Talaba, 6-4, 5-7, 6-0.

No. 4 seed Na-Lae Han outdueled Duval in a 1-hour, 58-minute match, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Top-ranked Madison Brengle, who defeated Serena Williams in 2017, locked into a battle early before pulling away from Jennifer Elie, 6-3, 6-3.

American Alexa Glatch upset No. 2 Anna Kalinskaya, of Russia, 6-4, 6-4.

Matches will resume today at 10 a.m.

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