Known by several names—ball person, ball kid, ball girl, ball boy—these select individuals are able to stand closer to the likes of the Williams sisters, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Maria Sharapova than those privileged few who drop great amounts of money to secure the most coveted audience seats. Individuals who get tapped to become a ball person come from diverse backgrounds, represent many age brackets, and are driven by different motivations.
However, there are a few characteristics that every ball person must possess—well, at least the ones who make it onto the courts of Grand Slam Tournaments. A pro-level ball person can throw a tennis ball 100 feet with precision and with only one bounce (without hitting others on the court). Agility, speed and excellent hand-eye coordination are a must to be able to quickly race across the court to retrieve stray balls. Maturity and professionalism are a necessity—squealing or waving when Venus nods for a ball will likely get a person banned from such sacred duties. Stamina is also key to surviving a day as a ball person. Ball kids don’t get to sit down or take breaks when the pros take a breather, but rather they hold the umbrellas that shade the exhausted players.
If you believe that you or your child has the desired skill set, then keep reading because you just may become one of the lucky few U.S. Open ball persons. Before you begin daydreaming about appearing on national TV behind Francesca Schiavone, read over the qualifying rules carefully before sending in the application for tryouts. (And yes, there are tryouts to undergo before one can receive the honored position.) Different tournaments have varying regulations regarding age. Some tournaments put a cap on acceptable ball person ages (Australian Open 2015 age range is 12 – 15 years old), while others allow older tennis enthusiasts to participate (U.S. Open only has a minimum age requirement of 14).
The super competitive ball person tryouts can include exercises like baseline-to-baseline throws and chasing balls along the net. Nearly 500 applicants turned out for the 2013 U.S Open tryouts, with only 80 slots available for the tournament. What many bystanders fail to notice is that it takes great athleticism and stamina to be a ball person in one of these legendary tennis tournaments.
Although ball persons are meant to be nearly invisible on the court, there are those rare moments that every ball person wannabe dreams about—a moment of recognition from a world-famous tennis player—like when Francesca Schiavone hugged a ball boy during the 2013 U.S. Open. Rather than simply watching Grand Slam Tournaments from your TV or from the nosebleed section of a stadium, stand on the court within close proximity to your tennis idols.