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Published: Monday June 23, 2014 MYT 12:25:00 AM
Updated: Monday June 23, 2014 MYT 8:35:19 AM

Big dreams: Chasing more than fuzzy green balls at US Open

Fetching tennis balls may seem an innocuous job for most people — but for the hundreds trying out to become US Open ‘ballpersons’,  it's a dream worth chasing.

Most will not make the cut, however. Out of the hundreds who turned up for this year's US Open ballperson tryouts at the US Tennis Association (USTA) Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in the Queens borough of New York, only a few dozen will be chosen to join veteran ballpersons from previous years. But they come anyway, young and old, braving the rainy skies on June 19 to test their luck.

The job description is rather straightforward, as is clear to anyone who's ever seen a Grand Slam match on TV — ballpersons are expected to fetch tennis balls from around the court during the game so the pro players don't have to. 

It’s not an easy job by any measure and prospects are limited. But then again, you don’t really need paper qualifications. Altogether, about 275 ballpersons work day and night sessions at the Open, for three weeks starting on Aug 25, with pay that starts at minimum wage. 

Big dreams: The US Open ballperson tryouts presents a rare opportunity for tennis fans to get up close and personal with their favourite pro players —  that is, if they manage to get through. — Reuters

Nevertheless, the job does come with unusual perks. Come August, the courts will be the centre of the tennis world's attention when top-seeded players come from all around the world to battle it out for one of the most prestigious titles on the pro tennis circuit — and ballpersons often get to rub shoulders with the best. 

A few teenagers at the tryouts admitted that their parents wanted them to make a bit of pocket money over the summer vacation. One couple giggled that they just wanted the free T-shirt from Ralph Lauren, which sponsors the tryouts.

But for every other ballperson wannabe who sees the job as just a stepping stone to something else, there’s Arthur Leinbach, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper whose grey-streaked hair set him apart from the mostly teenage crowd.

“I’m 50 and it’s on my bucket list,” said Leinbach, who made the trip to the tennis centre in New York City’s Queens borough from his home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you can’t stay active and compete with someone half your age - or less than half your age.”

Ballpersons must be at least 14 years old but there’s no upper age limit. They do, however, need to be quick, with a strong arm to throw a ball the length of a tennis court, said Tina Taps, manager of the ballpersons programme for the USTA. “We’re really looking for athletes who can adapt quickly,” she said.

Chasing the dream: William Silva, from Seattle, Washington, at the ballpersons tryouts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. — Reuters

Confidence helps, too. With up to 33,000 spectators filling the stands at each match, and millions more watching on television, it pays to be self-assured and 'on the ball', literally.

Definitely not lacking in confidence was 44-year-old Laura Ortiz, a US Army veteran wearing a prosthetic leg. She was injured in a hit-and-run car accident in 2008 but lost none of her determination. “Who doesn’t want to do this?” she asked.

And then, of course, you get the wide-eyed lovestruck tennis fan. “It would be so cool to be on the court with famous tennis players,” said Stephanie Seoane, 16, of Queens, adding that to be near her favourite player Rafael Nadal “would be a dream come true.” Seoane and the rest will find out in early July when the USTA calls back with their picks. Until then, dream big! – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, People, People, Sports, Tennis, US Open, ballperson, tryouts, hundreds, big dreams, US Tennis Association, New York

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