During the US Open we were all treated to some juicy baller bits by Justin Hom, a 31-year old ballman at the year's final major. Well, after putting out the word for more stories, I received a letter from DtL reader Tim who was a ballkid at the Aussie Open in 2000 + 2001.
The requirements to be a ballkid in Melbourne are slightly different from the US Open. Tim explains,
For a start the age limit is very strict, 12-15. Aussie sun being what it is, we were made to wear Legionnaire's hats and long sleeves despite the heat. The other big difference was of course that we rolled the tennis balls, and for good reason. It was quicker and far more efficient than throwing them.And, unlike Justin who described the so-called "caste system" at the US Open where only senior ballkids worked the big matches, Tim was part of a few major meetups during his short stint including an epic encounter between two great rivals:
My first tournament (2000) was also the first Australian Open to have a semi-final played at night, and I was lucky enough to be chosen for it. versus over five sets with a massive fourth set tiebreak. From memory Agassi came from behind to win the tiebreak and used the momentum to win the match. It was intense. Sampras barely ever looked at the ballkids, and never spoke. Agassi was forever urging himself on and talking to himself. After big points he'd turn around and point at us, wanting his towel. He worked the ballkids hard.
The only work Sampras made you do was to get him another of his drinks. He still didn't speak, and just held his nearly empty bottle up and shook it like a bell. If you didn't understand, he'd just shake it again.How entitled of him! But, Tim not only worked men's matches but the ladies' too. He was involved in a women's doubles match featuring some rising sisters against a couple of teen queens:
2000-2001 was also during the height of Kournikova hysteria. The male ballkids would look expectantly at their court allocation for the day, fingers crossed that they'd get to stare at Miss Kournikova's backside for a while. What do you expect from 15 year olds?
One of my strangest days was a day late in the tournament in 2001. Rain had washed out a lot of games, so Vodafone Arena was used during the evening with the roof closed. Fair enough, except all the spectators had gone home. So the massive crowd pulling match of Kournikova/Hingis versus the Williams sisters went on without a soul watching. The players didn't bother covering their mouths when they were whispering to each other, because you could clearly hear what the other team was saying! The Williams sisters won the match in three sets, but they only lost the first because they were preoccupied with aiming the ball at Anna Kournikova's face!Damn that's rough but whatever wins you the match, I guess. Tim disagreed, however, with one of Justin's observations:
To respond to what Justin Hom said said about Arnaud Clement, 2001 was the tournament where he reached the final. He was quite demanding, but he never abused anyone that I saw. The reason he wants the towel the way he does is because he only has one hand free, the other preoccupied with holding his prescription sunglasses, which he has to take off to towel his face! After he was punished by Agassi in the 2001 final Clement thanked the ballkids and apologised for working us so hard. Agassi didn't. I know which one I'd prefer to give a towel to, and after being in 'towel corner' for every Agassi match of the tournament, it's not Andre.I'm not really surprised Andre was such a task-master but it's good to know Arnaud isn't a total ass.
Phew - good stuff! Alright, I'm putting the word out again for ballkid stories. If you've ever worked any of the Grand Slams, especially the French Open or Wimbledon (to complete my own Grand Slam of sorts) I'd love to hear from you.
Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do tell!
(image via australianopen.com)