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  1. #1

    Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    FILM REVIEW: 50,000 Balls
    by Danielle Lescure

    “The formula is very simple for tennis… you gotta hit about 50,000 balls. By the time you’ve hit your 50,000th tennis ball, you’ve probably got an idea how to do it. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna win a match. It doesn’t mean you can win a tournament. Some kids hit their 50,000th ball by the time they’re eighteen, some – like these kids – have already hit it.” - Coach Billy McQuaid, from 50,000 Balls.


    We often hear today’s tennis stars talk about the sacrifices they made growing up to pursue a career in the sport. But rarely do details of the daily lives of junior players receive coverage. Equally as intriguing is examining how tennis shapes these players as people.

    A new documentary, 50,000 Balls, offers a glimpse into what those early years in the development of tennis’ future are like by introducing us to four juniors in USTA’s Boys 12s and under group. Conceived and produced by Tom Pura, whose son, TJ, is one of the subjects, the film was one man’s way of recording a unique journey on which four families had embarked.

    The action centers around the USTA National Hard Court Championships in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Mitchell Krueger, Joseph DiGiulio, Mitchell Polnet, and TJ Pura are competing. Respectively, these four finished 2006 ranked 2nd, 4th, 10th, and 14th in their age group nationally. As we follow the drama of the draw (will one of them take home the trophy?), we delve into the lives of these young athletes.

    One father, Paul DiGiulio, puts it plainly, “Your time is just consumed with tennis.” To place that comment into perspective, the four boys played a combined total of 414 matches in 2006. By comparison, top pros Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and James Blake played a collective 325. And those last four fellows? Well, they didn’t have homework awaiting them at the end of the day.

    Off the court, they are typical 11- and 12-year-olds, goofing off and playing video games. But on the court, there is focus and frustration. There are meltdowns and a maturity beyond their years. A mini-lesson in life plays out in every match – the need for discipline, perseverance, patience and problem solving. Each win and loss is analyzed afterward, often quite matter-of-factly. Krueger muses about one opponent, “He wasn’t bad; he just missed every shot.”


    “It’s a game that forces you to deal with your inner demons,” states USTA National Coach, Jay Berger. “There are incredible lessons that you can learn from tennis.”


    But solitary though the sport may be inside those white lines painted on the asphalt, beyond them is a team that shares in shaping these boys as players and people: the coaches who help build the skills they need to fly and the parents who try to keep their feet on the ground. As well as the featured juniors played at the time of filming, it’s an unrelenting uphill climb. Coaches continue to grill and drill them, knowing their game will have to constantly evolve in order for them to remain competitive as they get older.


    And pity the tennis parent. Required to be equally as dedicated as their child,
    they support, encourage and keep their kids on track. And once a match begins, they are as invested in every point as the players. But as they are relegated to watch from the sidelines, the turmoil is etched into their faces. They pace, they bite their lips, they sometimes have to look away. They are as proud of their children as they are helpless to assist in any way. McQuaid, a coach and tennis father, sympathizes, “Watching your child play… if she’s winning or if he’s losing, you gotta just sit there and let ‘em drown. Nobody can throw ‘em a life preserver out there. The kids have to solve these problems on their own… the parents share in the loss and they share in the victory.”

    In the end, though, it all comes back to the four boys. Despite hailing from all over the country, they share a camaraderie born of a mutual goal and an unspoken understanding of a life that isn’t exactly typical. They are driven, honest and eager, with respect and admiration for their peers. Even outside of tennis, and probably partly because of it, they excel.

    More remarkably, no one involved considers any of it to be a sacrifice. The rewards far outweigh anything they’ve had to forgo. Their numerous trophies remind them of how far they’ve come and motivate them to want more. Or, as Mitchell Polnet says simply, “You have to want it a lot. It has to be in your heart.”


    And isn’t that part of what draws fans to these battles played out on the fields of blue and green and red? To witness the character of a player demonstrated through their mettle, their passion and their ability – or lack thereof – to rise to the challenge before them?


    Though the documentary could have dug deeper into the lives of these competitors and the force that impels them to spend so many hours hitting ball after ball, the film yields a larger lesson. It’s about inspiring others, kids and adults alike, to pursue their passions with equal fervor to these boys’ and their families’ and about how much can be gained as a result. I know I was ready to go out and hit about 50,000 balls after watching it!


    Jay Berger comments that, “Generally speaking, if you coach based on character and you’re trying to make the kids better people… they’ll become better tennis players.” Watching these four, you never question their love of the game. There is still a long road ahead and no way to know what role tennis will play in the remainder of their lives. But regardless of the outcome of their tennis careers, they are well on their way to becoming successful adults.


    Tightly edited to come
    in at just under an hour, 50,000 Balls maintains a quick pace and enhances the highs and lows with a hip soundtrack featuring artists like Fatboy Slim, 46bliss and others. Bonus features include several extended interviews with coaches, former professional players like Tom Gullikson and updates of where the boys are now.

    Sadly, creator and tennis parent Tom Pura passed away suddenly last summer. A Wall Street retiree, his zeal for junior tennis and sports in general brought this project to life and he was tireless in promoting it. Having screened at several festivals, picking up awards for “Best Feature” and “Best Documentary” at the Northern California Film Festival, Tom’s wife, Sara, has now seen the project through to its completion.


    50,000 Balls is available for sale at the website www.50kballs.com.

  2. #2
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    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    awesome review, Danielle! Now I cant wait to watch the documentary- hopefully, they deliver to Germany

  3. #3

    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Lovely review. I would really like to see this film. But it is good that Coach McQuaid is a tennis coach and not a math teacher (and I know I am being an absolute jerk here, but...).
    Assume every match you play is a 6-4, 6-4 affair. Assume you hit only two balls per point (either returning or serving). Assume every game you play is won or lost 40-30.
    6 points per game times 2 shots per point = 12 shots, times 20 games = 240 shots.
    Divide 50,000 by 240 and you get a little less than 210 matches. I know the coach says some of those kids have hit their 50,000th ball before age 18, but I bet most of them hit their 50,000th competitive ball before age 12, in between practice matches and tournaments.
    I guess the title should have been HALF A MILLION BALLS. But it just shows how incredibly tough this sport is.

  4. #4

    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    I did not know about this film. Thanks for the great review and bringing it to our attention.
    Towel Avatar, do your thing!

  5. #5

    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Quote Originally Posted by ponchi101 View Post
    Lovely review. I would really like to see this film. But it is good that Coach McQuaid is a tennis coach and not a math teacher (and I know I am being an absolute jerk here, but...).
    Assume every match you play is a 6-4, 6-4 affair. Assume you hit only two balls per point (either returning or serving). Assume every game you play is won or lost 40-30.
    6 points per game times 2 shots per point = 12 shots, times 20 games = 240 shots.
    Divide 50,000 by 240 and you get a little less than 210 matches. I know the coach says some of those kids have hit their 50,000th ball before age 18, but I bet most of them hit their 50,000th competitive ball before age 12, in between practice matches and tournaments.
    I guess the title should have been HALF A MILLION BALLS. But it just shows how incredibly tough this sport is.
    Hmm. Looks like I've probably hit 50,000 balls. Bring on Federer!

  6. #6
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    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Nicely done, Danielle.

    I have a copy of the documentary (I wonder how I got it?) and it's really quite remarkable. It was interesting to put into perspective how true all of this is.
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  7. #7

    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Looks like an interesting documentary--I'm going to try to find it. At first, I thought it was going to be a film about the life of nelslus, though, by the title.

    Great review!
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  8. #8
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    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Thanks so much for all the lovely comments. This review has been a long time coming and I was happy to do it. It was important to me personally and as a tennis fan. Hats off to our m8 for her wonderful editing too!

    Quote Originally Posted by ponchi101 View Post
    But it is good that Coach McQuaid is a tennis coach and not a math teacher (and I know I am being an absolute jerk here, but...).
    I know the coach says some of those kids have hit their 50,000th ball before age 18, but I bet most of them hit their 50,000th competitive ball before age 12, in between practice matches and tournaments.
    I guess the title should have been HALF A MILLION BALLS. But it just shows how incredibly tough this sport is.
    LOL ponchi. Actually, if you take another look at the quote, McQuaid is saying these particular kids have already hit that mark by that age.

    Quote Originally Posted by beaujarkko View Post
    I have a copy of the documentary (I wonder how I got it?) and it's really quite remarkable. It was interesting to put into perspective how true all of this is.
    Hmmm...I wonder how that happened??

    Quote Originally Posted by JTContinental View Post
    At first, I thought it was going to be a film about the life of nelslus, though, by the title.
    Wonder which one of us would get assigned to review THAT film!
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  9. #9
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    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Quote Originally Posted by Danielle View Post
    Wonder which one of us would get assigned to review THAT film!

    Belslus got a whole NEW way to show ya "thumbs up."

    SEE ya at the movies.

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  10. #10

    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Well done Danielle! I deal with some of the big film festivals on the east coast and screened this one back in early 2008. I hope it gets more play, so to speak.

  11. #11

    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Quote Originally Posted by beaujarkko View Post
    I have a copy of the documentary (I wonder how I got it?) and it's really quite remarkable. It was interesting to put into perspective how true all of this is.
    Quote Originally Posted by Danielle View Post
    Hmmm...I wonder how that happened??
    Any chance we can have a viewing party of this film in IW?
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  12. #12
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    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Quote Originally Posted by Miles View Post
    Any chance we can have a viewing party of this film in IW?
    I'm happy to bring a copy.
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  13. #13

    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Quote Originally Posted by Danielle View Post
    I'm happy to bring a copy.
    No offense, but we'd prefer to view beau's version of "50,000 Balls."
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    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Quote Originally Posted by nelslus View Post
    No offense, but we'd prefer to view beau's version of "50,000 Balls."
    Just as long as beau's version doesn't include any scenes with that guy from the hotel pool last year...ew.
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  15. #15

    Re: Film Review: 50,000 Balls

    Great review, Danielle! I should watch it sometime

    Quote Originally Posted by Danielle View Post
    Just as long as beau's version doesn't include any scenes with that guy from the hotel pool last year...ew.
    oh....well you'll be disappointed, then.

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