Only one more week left till the best tennis tournament in the world — Western and Southern Open ! Every August, this weeklong tennis tournament also known as the Cincinnati Open, is held right here in Mason, Ohio. I got my first taste of this tournament last year, and since then it has become my favorite part of summer. I remember writing this last year after I volunteered at the tournament as a ball girl…Can’t wait to do it again!
“Roger, can I get an autograph?!” squealed fans of all ages, while meeting the tennis champ. All during the Cincinnati Open, scurrying around desperately, people hoped to bump into a famous player and get the opportunity for pictures and autographs; all while I held the best seat in the house: I got to hand the players their towels and tennis balls on court.
Most of the reactions I received when I told people I was going to be a ball girl were of humor, “Ha ha, have fun being a dork, standing in the sun for four hours.” Some looked at me quizzically, “That’s a real job?” And others simply thought it was weird. The select few who actually think the job is cool, being able to see players up close, are the ball kids themselves. Yet sometimes, even I myself, can’t help making fun of the job where you’re asked to fetch the balls — kind of similar to dogs.
Although no matter how much people poke fun at the ball kids, I have to say my experience as a ball girl was a unique one. It felt good to be part of a tournament that manages to be so successful even though it is completely dependent on volunteers. I learned a lot about the game of tennis and had the chance to get much closer to the pros than any other normal person. Watching players from all across the globe slam their racquets to the ground in frustration, curse in other languages in anger, and yell at the umpires in irritation is quite a difference experience witnessing it from five feet away than watching it on television.
And speaking of television, being a ball kid doesn’t only give you the chance to closely watch the athletes you see on TV; it also offers you the chance to BE on TV. Televised matches usually show the ball kids standing quietly and in the background, unnoticed, or appearing and disappearing like a magician at the sight of a ball near the net. My goal is to one day eventually make some sort of amazing ball kid catch and end up with a zillion hits on YouTube…seems like a brilliant way to get my fifteen minutes of fame. Like this kid:
Along with unexpected moments like the video showed, there are other various dangers associated with the jobs too. While you’re standing on the baseline, the player on the other side gets ready to serve and slowly tosses the ball up, and suddenly — BAM! Served over 100 mph, the ball appears to be headed straight for your face. A little terrifying, right? And what makes it worse is that you’re not allowed to flinch. You’re supposed to keep calm and keep a straight face, with no reaction.
Even scarier, when you do something wrong and upset a player. Sometimes players’ demands will include switching racquets every two minutes, only playing with particular tennis balls, or only allowing a certain ball kid to handle their towel. Maybe if I was a professional tennis player, I would understand these things; but I’m not, and I don’t.
Thankfully, I haven’t been in a situation where the player has specifically gotten upset with me (although there was one time when I accidentally bounced the ball off the player’s shoe; fortunately she didn’t get too mad about that).
Though we ball kids have the hardest job of all, chasing down tennis balls in the hot sun, dealing with sweaty towels, putting up with picky players, and of courses trying to look good in our incredibly dorky uniforms — it’s all worth it. Being able to see big names in tennis like Federer, Murray, Djokovic, Williams, on tournament grounds and on court is amazing, and the fact the some ball kids (including me!) were on TV makes me feel pretty awesome.
In the meantime, while I wait for the tournament to start next week, I will going through some intense ball kid training. Rolling tennis balls, holding up towels, opening umbrellas, and sprinting…I will be practicing it all. Also be sure to keep an eye out in the background of the W&S tennis matches for yours truly, in case I make an amazing catch on court.
But in all seriousness, ball kidding — not even sure that’s a term — is a wonderful experience. Best part? It gives you the thrill and excitement of an actual sport, except you’re not really playing. You get to watch the game, but you also get to be a part of it. Whether you’re an avid tennis player or a casual follower of the sport, being a ball person is a very unique experience, one that anyone can take advantage of and enjoy.