Professional tennis players start their journey to superstardom on the practice courts. And it was there, on the practice grounds of the US Open on Monday, where hundreds of fans of all ages tried out for one of the coolest summer jobs in all of sport.
More than 500 people, from teenagers to septuagenarians, descended on the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center looking to earn one of 80 spots to be a ballperson at the 2017 US Open.
“We’re looking for athletes,” said US Open Ballpersons Manager Tina Taps, who has been in her role since 1989 and will be working her 38th US Open this summer. “I’m in awe of our ballpeople. We want people at the back who can throw the length of the court with the accuracy they need, but there’s a little more intellect and awareness and agility at the net.
“It’s an amazing day. It’s so exciting for us because the US Open is near again. We’re so excited to have all these individuals come out to be US Open ballpersons and we’re looking forward to the great additions to our team.”
The tournament needs around 275 ballpersons each year and, with almost 200 veterans from last year hoping to return to the final Grand Slam of the year, that left just dozens of spots up for grabs for the newcomers.
Among those hoping to fill a spot was 17-year-old Danielle Breen, who plays tennis for Long Beach High School in Long Beach, N.Y.
“I was thinking, ‘Go slow but quick. Just get the ball, don’t drop it, make accurate throws,’” she said. “I’d never thought about being a ball girl before, but it seemed so cool. I’m pretty fast and athletic so I wanted to give it a try. If I could be courtside, it’s the best seat in the house. It would be the most amazing experience of my life.”
Applicants could choose from one of three roles: net, back or swing.
Net ballpersons stay at the center of the court and are responsible for retrieving balls that hit the net. They’re judged on their speed, agility and footwork, their hands and their ability to throw to the back of the court to help keep play continuous. There are typically two ballpersons at the net in every match.
There are twice as many ballpersons needed for the back positions – one in each corner of the court. They are responsible for collecting balls behind the baseline and throwing the length of the court to their counterparts. They’re judged on throwing accuracy, the style and power of their throws, their catching and their court awareness.
Swing ballpersons are among the best athletes since they have the arm strength and accuracy to work the back of the court, but the agility, quick feet and awareness to succeed at the net. They are able to switch between roles, depending on the tournament staffing needs.
At the front of the line to test their skills was the father-son duo of Xavier and Sebastian Chavarro.
Queens natives Xavier, 48, and Sebastian, 14, arrived three hours before registration opened to make sure they were at the front of the line so they didn’t miss their chance to compete.
“We wanted to be here first,” said Sebastian, who started playing eight years ago and counts Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin and Juan Martin del Potro as his tennis idols. “We heard there were long lines, so we wanted to get here as early as possible because it’s my first year that I’m old enough to try out.”
Added Xavier: “It’s very personal for me because I was the first person who gave him a racquet. I was very hopeful he would take the passion like me and he has so to me it’s a reward that he loves tennis as much as I do.”
If Sebastian was one of the youngest to try out, Tom Alicandri was one of the oldest to be put through his paces. The 72-year-old former radio personality from New Jersey has lived a rich life which has seen him play tennis with American great Pancho Gonzalez at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, dine with Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder and witness Billie Jean King’s 'Battle of the Sexes' win over Bobby Riggs in the Houston Astrodome.
“I’m old school, I liked John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors,” Alicandri said. “I love tennis and I love the US Open. Great food, great shops and a great tournament. Just being here is fabulous.”