Students play role in US Open as ball people

Jake Eisenberg , Sports Editor

Spaniard Rafael Nadal, ranked second in the world, did not play due to injury.  Andy Roddick, the face of American tennis for the past decade, announced his retirement and did so after being defeated by Argentine Juan Martin del Potro.  Defending US Open champion, top-ranked Novack Djokovic of Serbia, made it back to the finals, but lost in five sets.  Andy Murray, ranked third due to Nadal’s withdrawal, won his first Grand Slam title, the first by a man from Great Britain since Fred Perry’s victory in 1936.

Some watched from their couches, others watched from the grandstands in nearby Queens.

A couple of Schreiber students had the opportunity to watch from the courts themselves.

Seniors Yuliya Astapova and Brian Chung were both ball people at this summer’s US Open for the second year in a row.  In order to become a ball girl or ball boy, they both  tried out prior to the competition.

“I would definitely do it again,” said Astapova.  “If it works with college next year, I’ll definitely go again.”

Those attending tryouts had to predetermine which kind of ball person they were. Some are categorized as ‘backs’, and need strong arms to throw across the length of the court. Others are ‘nets’, who are usually quicker and more agile, in order to speedily remove balls from the net area. The last category is titled ‘swing’. This group participates in both ‘back’ and ‘net’ activities.

Tryouts were simple and only took about 10-15 minutes on one of the many side courts. Those who made the cut were sent a letter in early July, while those who did not were sentenced to watch from their couch.

As simple as the tryouts were, the rules and schedule were even simpler.  Ball people arrived at either 10:00 a.m.  or 12:30 p.m., and followed a general routine.  They had their first shift on the court for two hours, a break for an hour and a half, and then second shift on the court for two hours.  Those 18 and over were kept for the night shifts.

“The main rule was that we were not allowed to ask for the players’ autographs or to take pictures and, of course, we had to pay close attention on the court and keep it clear,” said Astopova.  “We had to give the players their towels or Gatorade when they asked.  Once, a player asked me if she could have a Coke, so the chair umpire called for some.”

Additionally, their “on-court seats” did not cost a dime.  Chung and Astapova were close to the action, but despite their proximity to the game, interaction with the players was very limited.

“The most interaction I had was when Carla Suez Navarro winked at me,” said Astapova.

“Besides the towels and stuff, there really isn’t much interaction,” said Chung.  “But, I’d say the coolest moment for me was when Federer asked me how I was doing.  It’s a pretty big deal when the number one tennis player in the world asks, ‘What’s up?’ My life is complete after that.”

Schreiber students enjoyed the US Open as well, albeit from a farther distance.  Choruses of “Did you see that match?” or “that point was awesome,” and even, “I cried when Roddick lost,” were not an uncommon throughout the halls.

“I wasn’t sure what to watch,” said Sarah Sigman.  “The Giants were opening their season against the Cowboys, but Roddick was mid-match with Del Potro.  Also, Berdych was set to play Federer later that night.  I was flipping channels the whole time.”

Many students following the US Open claimed to have spotted Chung and Astapova on TV.

“I’ve been going to the US Open since I was one year old,” said senior Holly Hubsher.  “One day, I went in with a friend of mine and was actually on the train with Brian, and he texted us what court he would be on.  I saw him again on the court on a different day at Arthur Ashe.  It was pretty cool to see someone I knew on the court and it was fun trying to get his attention.”

Depending on their merit (years of experience) and ability, they were assigned courts and time shifts.

Being a ball person is not just limited to one year.  In fact, one man, 45-year-old Gary Spitz, began participating as a ball boy in 1980 and has been running around the courts for over 30 years.

Chung understands why.  It’s “probably the coolest job in the world,” he said.