Scampering across the green grass of Wimbledon or the red clay of the French Open, scooping up balls, handing out towels: The young people standing at the corners of the court or squatting near the net help keep matches moving. Their gig may look glamorous, but the life of a tennis ball boy or ball girl is hard work.
Each tennis match requires six ball kids: one in each corner of the court and one on either side of the net. “You’re constantly running for the whole hour,” says Michal Saladziak, a 15-year-old ball boy from London. He worked Wimbledon this summer for the second year in a row. “It can get quite difficult.” During this year’s tournament, two ball kids fainted due to heat.
Of all tennis tournaments worldwide, Wimbledon is king. Tournament officials receive about 700 applications from would-be ball boys and ball girls, known as BBGs. Hopefuls must take a written rules test, a skills test, and a standing-still test. (No kidding.) Only 250 make the cut. After that, they train to make sure they’re fit enough for one-hour stints of ball snagging, rolling, and bouncing.
Becoming a ball boy or girl at the U.S. Open involves similar training. Last year, about 400 boys and girls tried out in New York City.
The aim, of course, is zero mistakes. Sarah Goldson, director of the BBGs at Wimbledon, says, “We hope that people don’t notice us.” Diligence without recognition seems similar to a Christian’s goal of “work[ing] heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)
Of course, people do notice the ball boys and ball girls. Almost every flub sends one of them scurrying. Almost every change of service involves them rolling those fuzzy orbs from one end of the court to the other. And almost every break sees one reaching for a towel to hand to a sweaty player.
Ball kids also need to know what to do when things go awry. “We’ve been told to take initiative,” Saladziak says. “If something unexpected happens, you just have to react to it.”
Ryuichi Nitta was first in line to try out for last year’s U.S. Open. He waited for hours for his turn to show what he could do—and made the cut. The biggest perk for ball boys and girls everywhere? Ryuichi says, “There is no better seat than right in front of the players.” After all, BBGs are tennis fans too.