By Gillon Gross

8-27 and 8-28

It was a hot day in Flushing, NY, but a satisfying day for me. My first shift was on court 15 again. For the first time of the tournament, I did a men’s doubles match. It featured Ivo Karlovic and Matt Ebden on one side. They were to face Randy Lu and Jiri Vesely. Two of those names have already been mentioned in past entries. Karlovic is humongous. The big man stands at 6 feet 11 inches tall and his serve has been clocked over 150 MPH. However, Karlovic can’t serve every game. Lu and Vesely won 6-4  in the third. It was a pretty fun doubles match all things considered. I have never understood why doubles gets so little attention. I love watching doubles, yet it’s not on ESPN, it’s not on stadium courts. Doubles is a lightning fast game. There are mostly short points, many winners from put away volleys. I really appreciate the speed of the game. I wish more people gave it a chance.

One of the best perks of being on the court for professional tennis matches is being able to hear the players speak. At the end of my first shift, after the men’s doubles left, and the women’s doubles was midway into the second set, I overheard something worth sharing with you guys. The team was upset with lines calls. Who do you blame? the linesman right? Nope. They gave the chair umpire an ear full. “Before the match, she (her partner) told me you knew nothing, now I see what she means. You don’t see anything. You are the worst.” she said. I was then forced to imagine a scenario where the players treated ball people that way. What if a player told me I was the worst ballboy ever? I’m just saying, everyone thinks they could be a chair umpire easily. Well, you better have extremely thick skin, because all of them do. Also, you must pay attention to everything. They are in charge of the entire match. That means they are responsible for the ball people, fans, players, judges, and court. When my legs hurt from running, yes, I wish I were a chair umpire, but believe me, it’s not easy.

My second shift was on court 7, the largest non TV court at the U.S Open. My crew came out thinking we would have a men’s singles match on our hands, but as soon as we arrived at the court, Dom Theim defeated Lukas Lacko. So on came a mixed doubles match. Mixed doubles is played with no ad scoring, and a decisive 10 point super tiebreak instead of a third set. These rules make the matches go faster. The most notable name in the match was Daniel Nestor. If doubles was as popular as singles, you would know him, trust me. Nestor is one of the greatest doubles players of all time. It was surprising that he lost this one, but also not surprising. Nestor is 41 years old. I’ll tell you what’s surprising. The man is still playing!

Thursday the 28th was probably the must uneventful day I can remember at the U.S Open. It was hard to find a close match on Thursday. Fans looking for intense matches had trouble finding them. Don’t let that scare you from the open. It was a strange day. All of the top players just seemed to take care of business. I’m not going to talk about my shifts on Thursday, but I will talk about myself.

I finally feel like I’m back to being the ballboy I was. My back, which was hurting me ever since the first day of qualies, has finally healed. And magically, so has my throwing. Before Wednesday I didn’t want to throw the ball. I had no confidence. Now I don’t care if I have to throw it, because I know it will be a good throw. I believe my comeback will be too little too late for stadium courts in 2014, but I am at peace. I attribute my bad throwing to my back injury. There is nothing I could have done about that. Now I feel good again, so I’m thankful for that. And I am happy to be at the U.S Open every day. I always find myself reminding myself of all the people who try out, and would kill to be in the position that I am in.

Tomorrow, I have another day off. I will be there anyways because your man loves his tennis.

8-26

As you know from the last entry, I had the day off from work today, but I didn’t take the day off from tennis. Watching Roger Federer and Marinko Matosevic square off at Arthur Ashe tonight was tons of fun. Watching Federer is always a pleasure. When I watch Djokovic and Nadal, I see them as robots, trained to be the fittest, fastest, strongest tennis players. How hard they must work to be so physically conditioned, and mentally strong. Not to mention their machine like consistency. When I watch Federer, I see someone different. So fluid, so natural, and so magical. His shot making is majestic. That’s all I can say. I used to idolize Federer. I wore collared shirts when I played, and tried to play an all court game. Then, I realized I wasn’t that talented. I could never play the style of play that Federer plays and be successful. I began to model my game off David Ferrer, someone who makes the best of his talent with his speed, footwork, and doggedness. The bottom line is, there is only one Roger Federer, and words cannot describe the thrill of watching him play.

The next match on was Serena Williams vs. Taylor Townsend. This match was sad to watch. Taylor was clearly overwhelmed by the stage. Serena destroyed her in under an hour. That’s all I can say about the match, but I can talk more about Serena, and player routines.

As a ballperson, keeping the players happy is at the forefront of my mind. The only way to do so is to know their routines. For example, almost all players take two balls before service, but Serena Williams often takes only one ball for her serve. If she misses her first serve, you must be ready to quickly give here another. Any slight hesitation will disrupt her service rhythm. This seems simple if you know what to expect going into the match, but if you don’t, you could get off to bad start with Serena. Weird superstitions are common on tour. Last year I worked a match with top 100 Argentine Pablo Cuevas. He refused to let me put balls on his racket. If a player is very close, it is unnatural to toss the tennis balls to him. A normal player would stick their racket out and let me put balls on it. Pablo clearly had an issue with that. When I tried to give him the balls he shook his head, said no, and backed up. An inexperienced Ballperson would perhaps try again, but you must adapt to your player. If Pablo wanted his balls tossed to him and not handed to him that’s fine, but really strange.

I’ll be back at it at 12:30 tomorrow for another exciting day at the open.

8-25

People, get comfortable, because this will be a long one. Anyone who spent time during qualies will have the same initial reaction when they enter the grounds during the main draw. Wow, it’s really damn crowded. As much as a I miss the peace, crowds excite me. I love a tennis match when the crowd is into it. It creates a great electricity in the air, and simply makes tennis more fun to watch. There was plenty to cheer about today. This was an outstanding Monday of tennis. Many of the top players struggled in their first round matches, but all of them prevailed. Murray looked shaky despite coming through against Robin Hasse in four close sets. Tsonga, and Venus Williams also dropped sets in their matches. Perhaps the best match of the day was first up on court 17. Nick Kyrgios defeated Mikhail Youzhny in four sets, although a fifth set seemed inevitable with Youzhny up a break in the 4th harvesting all the momentum. Kyrgios came storming back to upset the #21 seed in front if a raucous pro Aussie crowd.

Meanwhile, 100 yards away, I was in the middle of my first shift on court 15. The majority of the shift was during a match between Carin Knapp and Something Pironkova. Pretty pedestrian match up, but at least I recognized their faces from TV. Pironkova came out as the victor in three sets. After that the streak was finally broken. Niklas Mahut and Tomaz Belucci represented my first men’s match of the open. I know both of those players well, and enjoyed watching them duel. I was going to talk more about this shift, but the best is still to come!

Today I ballboyed at Arthur Ashe stadium during a match between Jiri Vesely and Stan Wawrinka. Now, don’t get too proud of me, but definitely get excited for me. I would not be one of the six ball people on court during the match. For the first time, I was to work the pit. Ever noticed there are holes in the back wall of Ashe? Well, the holes are for photography and they provide a very nice shift for a ballboy like me. My job is to get any balls that go into the hole. I then get them back to the ball people on court. The job is easy, and the experience is awesome.

The hallways on the very first floor were full with speakers, lights, cables, and instruments. Tonight would be the opening ceremony. At one point, they started hauling giant CO2 cans behind me. What are those for? The man simply said, we are going to make a thirty foot cloud. I was actually able to attend the opening ceremony later that night, and the cloud was epic. When I got to my post in the pit, I was in awe at how great my view was. They say ball people get court level seats; this was different. My head was a foot above the hard court. Being so low, I was able pick up sights and sounds that would be impossible otherwise. Stan was extremely vocal, talking to himself in his dialect of choice. The strength and speed of the top men was jaw dropping from so close. I estimate if they sold tickets from the pit, they could go for 1000$ per on this Monday. I was getting paid to be there. It was one of those moments when you are so happy to be a ballboy. Late in the third set, a man tapped me on the shoulder. He was a camera man for ESPN. I left my position so they could get footage. They said they would use it for a special feature, replay, or commercial. It was cool to see them gather these shots first hand. Only one ball went into the pit during my shift, and I made a nice snag. Success!

Day 1 was quite the day at the U.S Open for me, and for everyone else. Tomorrow I have the day off, but I will be at the open tomorrow anyway. I have tickets to the night session featuring Roger Federer and Serena Williams. Should be another great day.

Filed under: Mohl Gross, Tennis, Uncategorized


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