The world’s focus on the players during the Grand Slam events makes it easy to forget all of the strenuous, behind-the-scenes organization and preparations that take place months, or even years, in advance of a major tennis event. With the 2011 U.S. Open looming in our midst within the next two months, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center recently welcomed more than 500 entrants for the 2011 U.S. Open Ballperson Tryouts. In 2010, nearly 450 tried out to make the cut of approximately 100 chosen few to serve as ballpersons at the 2010 U.S. Open.
This event was open to the general public and the rules to enter were simple. Prospective ballpersons need to be 14 years or older, they need to be able to throw a tennis ball over the entire distance of the court, and needed to be somewhat quick in their movements when covering the net area.
Registration commenced at 3:00 p.m. with the event scheduled to begin promptly at 4:00 p.m. However, the large entry numbers and rainy weather made it difficult for organizers to take on this arduous task. Whilst gathering children into the indoor facility for the introduction, one of the ushers indicated how difficult this process was going to be. “From over 500 participants, we need to choose only 100 to move into the next round,” said one of the ushers. “The rain is definitely not going to help since now we’re going to have a limited number of courts to add to our problems.”
After a welcoming from Ballperson Director Tina Taps, the already-experienced ballpersons conducted a demonstration for the entrants where they showed the basic movements that would need to be mastered. With a stroke of luck, the rains ceased and organizers were able to lead groups of excited participants to various outside courts to perform the drills by which they would be judged. The drills included throwing and catching down the line and crosscourt balls, as well as running the length of the net while retrieving rolling balls. Each rotation lasted about five min., with four participating per rotation.
Chanelle, a 16-year old entrant, indicated that, hidden underneath the excited chatter amongst the prospective ballperson population was an air of competition as every individual was fighting for one of only a few spots.
“There is definitely a lot of anticipation. But, what isn’t that obvious is how nervous we all are,” said Chanelle. “More people entered this year, and that means a lesser chance of getting in. Everyone wants to be a part of the U.S. Open because being so close to the players would be an amazing experience.”
This competitive process does not stop after this round of tryouts. There will be a second round of tryouts where the 100 chosen from this round will be reduced to around 50. After that, there are still the qualifying rounds of the 2011 U.S. Open where ballperson numbers will be further minimized.
Kilby Featherston, who has been a ballperson at the previous eight U.S. Opens, mentioned that in the later rounds, they look for more subtle flaws.
“Here, they just look for basic throwing abilities and movement around the court,” said Featherston. “But later, it gets more difficult. I remember that when I was trying out, the organizers had to warn a 15-year old girl not to touch her hair because otherwise she’d be out.”
There was a mixture of elation and disappointment amongst the participants as the afternoon and evening activities were concluded. However, the organizers seemed to be delighted at having conducted a successful round of tryouts, despite the obstacles that made the task more strenuous than in past years.
Credit all photos to Monica Gorny
Registrants apply for a dream job in the spotlight at the 2011 U.S. Open
Cathie Delaney assists a prospective ballperson
Inclement weather forced a portion of the tryouts indoors before the skies allowed for action outside at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Ballperson hopefuls line up outside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center