For about two weeks at the end of the summer one sport takes over the New York sports scene. Professional Tennis is the game and everyone wants to get in on the U. S. Open action. A-Rod and Rex Ryan take a back seat to Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and the likes. Yet despite all the glamour of the big names, a professional tennis match would be chaos if not for the efforts of the “Ball People,”
The job of a Ball Person sounds simple: to retrieve the miss-hit ball and help play resume as quick as possible. The difficult part is doing these tasks as quickly as possible, so the flow of the match is not interrupted. Each year over 700 people from ages 14 and up try out to be a U. S. Open Ball Person. The tryout consists of running fast, catching and accurate distance throwing, all of which are needed to help keep a match moving along. From the tremendous pool of applicants, the U. S. Open only has 70 spots to fill (less than 10 %). At this year’s open, there were seven orthodox Ball People from Bergen County: Rebecca Gellis, Solomon Rappaport, Oded (Odi) Haramati, Kevin Alter, Bryan Alter, Nate Goldman and Aaron Lauer.
Once selected, this group spent three grueling weeks as Ball People. Each worked a minimum of two matches a day, rubbing elbows with the greatest players in tennis, watching them practice up close to handing them towels and drinks during a match. There is no other sport where so many people can get this close to star athletes.
During one rain delay, Andy Murray decided to pop in and visit with the Ball People. “He just started talking to us,” said Kevin Alter. “It was so cool.” Francesca Schiavone decided to hug one Ball Person at one point during a game, and it became a YouTube sensation. And the list of interactions goes on and on. Rebecca Gellis spoke about her experience as a Ball Person on Arthur Ashe Center Court. She said, “Being in the spotlight was surely a thrill, but finding out later that my friends and family were able to see me on TV from Teaneck to Israel was incredible.”
Not every match is on television and not every player is well known, but that doesn’t lessen the experience. For two hours the Ball People run, catch and throw, all while an arm’s length from the most popular people in the sport. So as the summer comes to an end and the kids are back in school there remains the last few players and the memories of the summer’s coolest job in New York City.