ASHLAND, Ky. — On the 40th anniversary year of the United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit, its all-time winningest player is still making a difference — even while facing adversity.
Julie Ditty Qualls, aided by several college and top high school players from the area, provided free tennis instruction to more than 150 boys and girls over four weeks at the Ashland Tennis Center.
The group lessons kicked off events building up to the Braidy Industries $60,000 Women’s Tennis Classic.
Lessons wrapped up July 5. Qualls smiled and laughed as she encouraged the youngsters to keep working.
“We had so many kids that never played before,” she said.
Evidently, some couldn’t get enough tennis. Qualls said one woman talked about her grandchild now wanting to play eight hours a day.
The parent of another beginner told Qualls, “That’s all she wants to do now.”
Added Qualls: “I love hearing that story. We started out with 150 kids and I think we finished with 150. It was really successful.”
Qualls knows about success. Ever soft-spoken and humble, she continues to hold the USTA Pro Circuit record for combined singles and doubles championships with 38, set from 2001-11. Her 29 doubles titles also rank No. 1.
Four years ago, Qualls was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was definitely difficult,” she said. “But I had a lot of family there to support me. I had taught tennis during that whole time. The tennis helped me get through it physically and mentally.”
Teaching tennis — even in muggy conditions — has helped her cope.
“Just being around the kids and feeding off their energy,” Qualls said. “I’m a pretty positive person. I think my attitude will help me get through it.”
She’s done more of the same in recent weeks after finding out the cancer has come back.
“It wasn’t good news, but I’m just trying to enjoy each day,” Qualls said.