Alisha Chulani prepared for months to be a ball kid at the Match for Africa 5 Silicon Valley. But the Los Altos resident had no idea she would get to do more than hand out towels and shag balls for tennis stars Roger Federer and Jack Sock during their exhibition match.
After a changeover at the March 5 charity event in San Jose, Sock offered Chulani the chance to play a few points against Federer, ranked No. 1 in the world.
“It was definitely unexpected,” the St. Francis High sophomore said. “I was blown away.”
Federer appeared just as stunned when Chulani scored the first point. On her fourth shot of the volley, she hit a winner to the left side of the court that zipped past the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
“He seemed a little surprised,” said Chulani, the top singles player on the Lancers’ girls tennis team. “I think he was caught a little off guard that was I able to hit the ball back.”
The sold-out crowd at SAP Center roared with approval, and a delighted Sock raced over to give Chulani a high-five.
“I was in shock in that moment and kind of freaking out,” she said.
Yet it didn’t fluster Chulani enough to give up the next point without a fight. After a lengthy rally, her sixth shot went long.
Sock took over from there, but not before Federer served up some kind words for Chulani.
“He said, ‘Good job. That was great hitting,’” she recalled.
After the match, Chulani took a photo with Federer, who she called “one of my idols.”
Before long, video of Chulani vs. Federer surfaced on the internet (type “Ball girl outplays Roger Federer” into any search engine), and it already has nearly 25,000 views on YouTube.
Quite a night for the 15-year-old, whose coach at Mountain View Tennis invited her to volunteer as a ball kid at the event. Chulani’s brother Neil and other members of the Cuesta Park-based organization participated as well.
“We trained for two months,” she said. “I’d never done it before.”
And what a payoff for Chulani – an experience of a lifetime.
“It was so exciting,” she said. “I never thought I’d be on the same court with one of the greatest players and get to hit with him.”