By Gillon Gross


Two days before the us open qualifying tournament begins, the grounds of the BJK tennis center are quiet for one last time before the action begins. On this day vendors prepare their food stands, Ralph Lauren clothing stores stock their shelves, every corner of the grand cathedral of Arthur Ashe stadium is polished for cleanliness, and for a first time us open ballboy, today is training. Many are surprised to hear that a rookie ballperson only gets 2-3 hours of training before they are thrown into the storm. A rookie will have to do most of their learning on court during the qualifying week. Even though much is learned on the court, the basics are covered in training. There should always be 6 balls present on the court. In training you learn where and how to move those balls around the court to where they need to be. The ultimate goal is to provide the serving player with the balls they need, and then to get the hell off the court. For a second year veteran like me, today is uniform distribution. It seems that people are equally as interested in free Ralph Lauren clothing as they are in the act of ballboying. “Oh you were a ballboy? Do you get the uniform for free?” They ask. The obvious answer is yes, it is all free. “You get paid too?!” Yes I get paid too. But for someone who loves tennis like I do, the pay and the uniform is nothing compared to the joy of being on the court with the players helping the match move along. I always tell people, I would do it for free.

I arrived at the tennis center at 11:00 am this morning. Anyone on the grounds on this day had to be credentialed. I passed the CBS sports, and ESPN trucks, of course glancing in to see if I recognized anyone. Besides the muted hum of squeegee machines roaming the grounds, it was silent. When I walked into an empty Louis Armstrong stadium, I couldn’t help but stop and smile. I had so many memories here watching matches at the U.S Open. Now I was a part of it. I stood alone in that stadium as a part of an exclusive number of people who were allowed to be there. It is a special feeling. I saw many familiar faces in the ballperson’s lounge where uniform distribution takes place. I saw Cathy, my boss, the Simon Cowell of ball people. I saw my supervisors. Its important to know their faces, because impressing them is the only way to get on big courts. Everything about being seeing these people at the BJK National tennis center once again filled me with excitement. Last year was the quite possibly the best three weeks of my life, and here I was about to do it again. I collected my uniform. Last year the colors were red White and blue. I adored last year’s uniforms. This year, blue, green, and yellow are the colors of choice. The shoes are bright neon yellow. I would describe these uniforms in one word, as awesome. Last years uniforms were not awesome, they were classic, they were beautiful. This year they’re like anything else neon yellow, a tad ugly, but awesome. Of course opinions will differ on this matter. Before collecting uniforms you are given an envelope, inside is information about your first shift. I got the night session. I will report to duty at 5:00 pm on Tuesday, and I will be counting down the seconds.


One more day before the qualifying tournament begins. I’d like to start off by saying, come to qualifying! Top 200 players will all be competing to book themselves a first round match at the U.S Open, and admission is free. Top pro’s will be occupying Armstrong and Grandstand practicing all week. Last year Federer, Murray, Gasquet, Tsonga, Sharapova, and Kerber, all practiced publicly during qualies. The qualifying tournament is one of the best kept secrets in New York.

Tomorrow I will tell you all about my matches and more about the structure of a ballperson’s day, but because there is no tennis to be played today, it’s story time!

Who is the nicest player you Ballboyed for?- I’ve worked with qualifier no names, teenage American juniors, and also top 20 pro’s. Who would’ve thought the world number 1 is also the nicest! Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan the best doubles team of all time were the only people in my entire three weeks of ballboying to say thank you for a ball. Frankly I’m not offended if you don’t say thank you. I’m doing my job you are doing yours, I don’t feel as if I’m doing anyone favors. But the Bryan’s went out of their way to say thanks. I think that shows outstanding humbleness. The Bryan Bro’s- nicest guys on tour.

Who is best player I have ballboyed for?– last year my name was called for grandstand, the us open’s third biggest court. I felt a surge of nervousness and excitement all at once. My mom was there with me that day. I looked at her, and said grandstand. She didn’t know what I meant so I just pointed. Then she knew this was a big deal. I vividly remember sprinting to my locker, grabbing my phone and texting all my friends. That way they could see me on TV if ESPN showed the match at some point in the broadcast. I was still sprinting when I arrived in the lounge under Grandstand. My eyes must have been a foot wide, because they all immediately told me to relax. I was with 5 veterans. Both of the nets had worked men’s finals before. My back partner was a four year veteran with tons of experience on stadium courts. It was me, a little rookie, and 5 other guys who have had experience on Ashe. And….a mistake was made right off the bat. US open ball people go to their positions in a specific form at the start of a match. It’s called the burst. In simple terms, the umpire tossed the balls across the net instead of leaving them for the nets to get. We fumbled the balls; it was a horrible burst. When I got to my back position, a fan above me jokingly announced “first mistake of the match”. I actually appreciated the comment and he got a visible smile out of me. However the drama wasn’t over. Tommy Haas got out of his chair and approached me holding his towel. I had been working the open for two weeks now, and I have never handled the towel. That’s because a rookie always takes the side of the court opposite of the players chairs. Tommy Haas went across the court to give me the towel. Tommy has a reputation of being very grumpy on court, so handling his towel was nerve wrecking. I handled Tommy’s towel for 3 games, before my partner and I decided it was best we switch sides when Tommy came to our end of the court. There was one other challenge during this match. Tommy Haas was shouting swear words the entire match. That isn’t very funny at face value, but when you combine German and English in one explicit phrase, oh it sounds funny. If I cracked a smile, it was never while he was looking so the mission was successful. Haas defeated Randy Lu in straight sets at the end although the match was competitive and the crowd was into it. Getting on grandstand is a great accomplishment for a rookie. I had fun out there, and gained valuable experience. This year I will be handling the towel very often and hopefully getting on more stadium courts.


Ladies and gentleman, I am currently a tired human being. I decided to tag along with a couple of my friends today and arrived at the tennis center by 12:30. I wasn’t finished working until 9:45. The first thing we did was see Murray and Wawrinka practice in Armstrong. The first thing you’ll notice is Murray’s size. He moves like he is 5′ 10 but he is actually 6′ 4. The second thing you’ll notice is that he looks injured. Is he injured? No. He is just Andy Murray so he limps around the court between points. The greatest thing about watching these guys is their contrasting backhands. Murray hits his two hander flat like a frozen rope. Wawrinka hits his one hander with beautiful shape and topspin. Two completely different backhands, both world class.

My first shift was on court 13, a moderately large court. I got on for the end of a match and the first set and half of another. Both matches were women’s. A ballperson works by the hour, not by the match. At the US Open, we work two hour shifts. Neither of the matches were interesting enough to talk about. I’ll probably talk more about matches later on in the tournament when I know all the players. Since I had the 5 pm shift, I knew my second shift would be cut short. I got on court for another 30 minutes, no more.

When it comes to my performance on court, there was one throw I would like back. This was what you would call a sophomore mistake. A mistake that someone who is used to playing on the opposite side of the chair would make. One of my throws across the court hit the top of the chair. Luckily it didn’t hit the chair umpire, but hitting the chair is something you never want to do. I didn’t hit it because I have bad aim. I hit the chair because I was not thinking about not hitting the chair. I learned from my mistake and didn’t throw anywhere near the chair for the rest of the day. Sometimes I even overcompensated throwing the ball too far towards the center. The chair umpire found the humor in my disastrous throw. “You trying to kill me?” She asked and then winked. I returned a smile but was still recovering from my embarrassment. The great news is, that happened today. It could have happened on a much bigger stage. Now I know that won’t happen again, because now, before I throw, I think, is this going to take the chair umpire’s head off? So that is my story of the day. Tomorrow I will report to duty at 5 pm again. This will be the last time I get the late shift because I need to get my hours in!  Player to watch tomorrow- Francis Tiafoe, 16 year old American with a very bright future. He plays his second career tour level match tomorrow. USA USA USA


Day 2 of the US Open qualifying tournament has come to its conclusion, and I have managed to keep some streaks going. Five matches complete, I am yet to do a men’s match in 2014. I once again had the late shift so I only spent two and a half hours on court. Taking court 7 tonight- the one seed followed by the two seed in the women’s draw. The top seed is a classic Spanish grinder. She disposed of her Japanese opponent easily. The second seed was the polar opposite. Kuhmkuhm, (Koom- Koom) the Thailand native hit aggressively using two hands on both wings. It was evidently a bad day for team Japan on court 7 as another went down to Kuhmkuhm.

One time in that match, I was approached by Kuhmkuhm for balls. I had three balls in my hand at the time. She already had a ball in her pocket. I gave her one, she tossed it back, I gave her another, she tossed it back, I gave her the third, which she accepted with a smirk on her face. She only wanted one ball, I of course didn’t know which one that was, and I guessed wrong twice. I’m telling you this story because you are probably wondering why players are so picky when selecting balls. In fact, you may wonder about that every time you watch tennis.

Why do the players take 3-5 balls if they’re only going to select 2? First it’s important to know what players look for in a ball and why. Firstly, the goal is to find the ball that will fly through the air the fastest. Players look for any ball that will amplify the power of their serve. This means selecting the smallest ball. Of course all balls are made the same size in the factory. So how are they different sizes? Tennis ball fuzz! The more fuzz, the larger the ball, the slower it moves through the air. Players look for the ball that looks the smallest because it has the least fuzz therefore it will play the fastest. In almost all cases, balls that have been used more in the match will be slower. Ball people actually make balls smaller when they hold them tightly behind their back. Ball changes are every 7 games, so the players are provided with new balls. The top men are tennis ball snobs. Most of them take 5 or 6 balls before going to the line to serve with two. The women and juniors usually only look at two or three. Us ball people appreciate that.

I have the day off tomorrow. I may or may not go to watch the tennis anyways. Either way there is more content to come. If there is anything you would like to hear about, use that comment section!

to be continued…..

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