How to Be a Ball Girl for the U.S. Open

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Guest Grit by Kelsey Colt

{Kelsey is a Midwestern girl living in Charleston. The recent college grad loves wine, food, writing, and, of course, tennis.}

 

As I turned off my alarm last Thursday, I had to remind myself that I did, in fact, want to be up at 4:30 in the morning. I reminded myself that I wanted to do this; I wanted to try out to be a ball girl for the U.S. Open, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments. So I got up, dressed quickly, grabbed my bag, and headed out the door for my 6 a.m. flight.

 

Here’s the background: In order to make peace with graduation (which, at the time, I thought was a death sentence), I created a bucket list during my final days of college. I’d heard earlier last year that the U.S. Open holds open tryouts to be a ballperson and immediately added this to the list. So almost a year later, there I was, on the way to the airport to do just that. Driving across the bridge, looking out over the marsh, I grinned at the realization of what I was doing.

 

We touched down at New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 8 a.m. The tryouts weren’t 'til 4 p.m., so to kill some time, I headed to SoHo to get coffee and look at a few shops on Broadway. I grabbed some lunch at Dean and Deluca then started my trek from lower Manhattan to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing. I gave myself five hours to get there. I know that sounds like overkill, but I don’t have the greatest track record with the lovely New York subway system and I did want to get there a little early. 

 

The 7 train took me right to the stadium. I had been talking about this for close to a year and the time had finally come. My feelings were mixed—I was so nervous yet so excited. At the sight of the Arthur Ashe Stadium though, my fear left me and excitement was all I felt. It was only 12:30, so I took a seat on one of the couches in the main room. There was a boy dressed in the last year's Polo outfit from the Open, so I started talking to him to get the scoop. He told me that the tryout’s really just a fun experience and to stay calm and then assured me that I had been practicing the right drills. Then he told me about all the cool gear he’d gotten and that he made $500 from ball-boying last year. I also found out that we got a free shirt just for trying out, which totally justified the trip for me. (By the way, my dad is a pilot so I have flying benefits, meaning I fly for very cheap. So this day trip to New York wasn’t putting me back much.)

 

 

The clock slowly ticked away and people slowly trickled in. I guess I really should be saying kids instead of people. The only requirement to tryout is that you are 14 or older. If you were wondering where every 14- to 16-year-old boy who liked tennis was last Thursday afternoon, they were with me. To say my age was the outlier would be an understatement. So I made friends with a couple of 16-year-old girls.

 

 

Me (middle) and my two new buds

 

By 3 p.m. we were all lined up and I started to realize just how many people were there. I thought the 100-degree temperature would keep a few people away but it didn’t. We got our shirts, signed our waivers, and were assigned our numbers. I was 78 of about 500.

 

 

We moved to the courts and were given a demonstration from last year's ballpeople of what we should look like. Then we were separated depending on whether we were trying out for net, back, or switch (which is both). One of the things that differentiate the U.S. Open from the other Grand Slams is that the back ballpeople actually throw the balls from one end of the court to the other with one bounce, instead of rolling the balls as in the other tournaments. Since I can’t do this 100-foot throw, I tried out for net.

 

 

“Numbers 50 through 60, please line up,” they called. My number was almost up and I was ready to go. I had watched a few people and was ready to show them what I got. I was finally feeling antsy. My two new friends went just before me and then I was up. I handed the guy my card and he asked me my age. I embarrassingly replied 23, trying to whisper it under my breath so the 13-year-old boys behind me wouldn’t judge.

 

The alumni ballperson hit the ball into the net and I was off, scooping up the ball and quickly sprinting to the other side. We repeated this a few times before the guy stopped to give me a suggestion for improving my throws. My audition continued until I was out of breath, and then it was over. The alumni told me that my sprints were good but that my throws need some work and asked if I had someone to practice with. So either he was suggesting I practice for callbacks or for next year. I’m hoping for the first. 

 

On the bus back to the airport I couldn’t decide what I was more excited about: that I had just tried out to be a ballperson and had seen the Arthur Ashe Stadium or that I had successfully used public transportation to get around the city without giving up and cabbing it. 

 

I sat down in my seat on the plane at 7:36 p.m. and gave myself a little mental pat on the back for accomplishing this goal on my own. My thoughts then turned to the letter I’ll be receiving in the mail anytime after July 6, the one telling me whether I’m one of 150 that will get a callback for the 80 open slots. 

 

Getting in my car to drive home to Mount Pleasant, I was once again in the dark—the same way I had left that morning.