All eyes will be on the players when the U.S. Open returns to Flushing Meadows on Monday, but the ballpersons will be working very hard as well.
Lurking toward the back corners of the court, just within visibility, everything that they try to do is with the intention of remaining unseen and not taking the spotlight from the athletes. Still, without them, the tennis matches would not run so efficiently.
On a cloudy June 19, I stood idly by with the other media members who were about to be put through the rigors of the U.S. Open ballperson tryouts. On Court 11 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we all waited and stretched before we began our examinations.
One thing became certain -- they don't accept just anyone.
Our throwing was first tested, as we broke up into pairs and practiced our long tossing, from one end of the court to the other, making sure to get enough arc on the throw to avoid nailing the line judge in the head. We then practiced cross-court tossing, from one back corner to the other diagonal, while trying to get it to our ballperson counterpart on one bounce.
Physical fitness and agility are important, and they were tested in our final set of exercises.
One of us would kneel at the side of the net, and we had to practice picking up the balls that hit it. If it was closer than half court, we would pick it up, return to our positions and throw to our partner by the back fence. If it was further, we would run, pick it up, run to the other side and perform a cross-court toss. Our running form, speed and throwing accuracy all were judged.
In the end, it was evident that a lot more went into being a ballperson than had previously met the eye. Drenched with sweat and panting, I downed a bottle of water before I went on my merry way, with a newfound appreciation for the ballpersons who aren't given as much credit as they deserve.