by Adam Dreyfuss
Whether you notice it or not, there is a constant to every tennis match played on the ATP World Tour. That constant is ballboys. For the past six years, my hometown, Winston Salem, NC, has had its very own ATP tournament, the Winston Salem Open. For the past four years, I have volunteered for the tournament as a ballboy.
Personally, I love being a ballboy. It is one of my favorite weeks of the year, and I have made many friends over the past four years. It is always very surreal getting to be right there with some of the best tennis players in the world. It is also very fun being able to just walk around when not on court and go and watch some quality tennis matches.
My favorite memories whilst being on the court have to be the finals in which I have previously been a ballboy. This past year was my third time being one of the ball kids who get to be in the finals group.
My first ever final, I ran at the net during the first and third sets. It was probably one of the most nerve wracking moments of my life, but it was also a whole lot of fun, as Lukas Rosol defeated Jerzy Janowicz.
Last year, I ran net again, but that year was different, as I was a captain for the week. Being a captain means that I have my own designated team and I get to set everybody’s position and where they all play.
The final that year was between Kevin Anderson and Pierre Hugues Herbert. I wasn’t as nervous that year, as I had already done a final before.
This past year had to be my favorite year of all. Not only was the final one of the most entertaining, as Pablo Carreno Busta outlasted fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in a three set thriller, but I feel like I got a lot closer with the other ballkids.
Sure, I was friends with them before this year, but after this year I feel like we became even better friends. We gave each other nicknames, joked around a lot, and had a lot of fun. Someone even made cookies and brought them in.
I became friends with new people too. Sure, I had known them from ballboying in years’ past, but I had never gotten to know them so well. As much as I can ramble on about the friends that I have made, I think it would be better for you guys to know just how much work goes into being a ballboy.
Before the Tournament
Before the grueling week of the tournament even starts, we have to attend five training sessions. These last two hours each where we work on different scenarios and in-game situations.
While in these training sessions, we are graded by the court monitors, who then decide what team we’ll be on and who the captains will be. I’ve been a captain for the past two years.
Being a Captain
Being a captain basically means that we are the head of a single team. It may sound fun, but it is more stressful than anything.
We have to keep track of the scores on all courts, know when our team is assigned to go on, decide which positions each team member will go to, and lastly and most stressful of all: We have to know where all of our team members are at all times.
This might not sound too bad, but keeping track of seven or eight people can be very, very difficult. Especially when these kids are spread over the entire tournament grounds. Trust me, 12 and 13 year olds can run around, a lot.
The Actual Week
Up until the final few days, I don’t have as much fun ballboying. Mostly because, the teams are just plain awful. As a captain, until the first two cuts are gone, I spend a lot of time on court taking mental notes of how I can make the ballkids better. Whether it be to be as fast as you can, always pay attention, or not lean against a fence.
When the cuts are made and we go down to about 24 ballkids, is when the real fun starts. That’s when we start to be able to joke around with everyone and get to talk to one another. This is also when the ballboys are all good, so the teams are actually decent.
The final two days are always the best, and most fun though. That is when we go down to 13 or 14 ballkids, and it’s just the best of the best out there. These people also tend to be the ones that I am better friends with, and know better. The final few days is also when the tennis is the best and usually the most entertaining.
Over the entire week, I put in a lot of time being a ballboy. This year I put in over 90 hours across those eight days, and worked a whole lot. On the court, it was hot and a lot of times I didn’t have too much water. However, even though it may sound rough, it is still one of my favorite weeks of the entire year.