Madison Ballard

By David Troppens

 Madison Ballard may be the greatest tennis player to ever play at Fenton High School.

 In fact, she is one of the best in Metro League history, considering the 2015 graduate is the league’s only four-time No. 1 singles flight champion in the league’s history.

 But her tennis career didn’t end at Fenton.

 Ballard moved on to Grand Valley State University’s squad where she quickly became one of the strongest players on her women’s tennis squad. And she did it despite having to deal with her share of  injuries.

 She completed her senior season recently, being named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s 2019 Midwest Region Senior Player of the Year. She collected the honor by earning first team All Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) status with an overall singles record of 17-7. She posted a 6-2 record as the team’s No. 1 singles player, while recording a 9-4 mark at No. 2 singles. She went 18-8 in doubles matches, going 9-2 in No. 1 doubles matches, and helped the team to an 8-1 GLIAC dual meet record, which helped the Lakers earn a co-conference championship. The squad was 23-5 overall, earning a spot in the Division II NCAA Tournament. Ballard loved her time at Grand Valley.

 “It was incredible,” Ballard said. “It makes me want to cry how great of an experience we had. Obviously, there are some issues here and there, but overall it was an experience with my

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best friends that I’m super grateful for.”

 Ballard spent most of this season bouncing between the No. 1 and No. 2 singles sand doubles spots. She had her success despite dealing with wrist brace.  She hurt her wrist sometime during the fall portion of her senior season.

 “In October, I felt something not right in my wrist,” Ballard said. “I played the last six months with a wrist brace on. I had to learn how to hit a backhand again.

 “Tennis does quite the number on you. You are using your whole body for 20-plus hours a week. It’s rigorous and hard. You are always training during the summer and in the fall you play two straight months non-stop. You train over winter break and then in January you start up again and keep going until May. There’s a lot of playing time.”

 Ballard had to work her way up the lineup. After finishing her Fenton career with a 95-8 singles record, the four-time high school state qualifier and two-time state semifinalist had to start at Grand Valley at the No. 6 singles position, but steadily improved to where she actually plays some No. 3 singles matches. She went 11-4 in dual matches and had a 15-4 record overall. She went 22-6 in doubles competitions, posting a 20-5 mark at No. 2 doubles.

She also had to deal with her first major injury during that season, dealing with a high ankle sprain. But in a lot of ways she had to treat it as a broken ankle.

 “It was the worst ankle sprain you could have,” Ballard said. “I would’ve been better off breaking it because the recovery time wouldn’t have been as long.”

 Ballard’s junior season she earned first team all-GLIAC status again, earning an overall singles record of 14-13, playing most of those matches at No. 1 singles. She played No. 2 doubles during the season, going 19-10 overall. The squad also had an outstanding season, going 10-0 in conference action and winning the GLIAC Tournament, earning the title outright. The title earned the squad a spot in one of the NCAA regional tournaments,  facing Wayne State in the first round of an NCAA regional. The Lakers won that match 5-4, but then lost to the University of Missouri (St. Louis) 5-4. The squad finished with a 23-4 record overall.

 Through the ups and downs, Ballard still loves tennis as much as she ever has.

 “I’ve been playing my whole life. I’ve been playing since I was 3 and training since I was 7,” Ballard said. “It was instilled in me when I’m on the court, nothing else in the world matters. That helps because it is my sanctuary. No matter how hard my life is, the tennis court is where none of that matters. It’s a home away from home, and it always has been. That’s why I love it. My entire family plays tennis. My grandparents never missed a match. The sport holds a very special place in my heart.”

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