Since 2000, when I became a ballperson for The Hamlet Cup, I have longed to try out for the U.S. Open, the most elite group of ballpeople in the world. Ten years later, I finally had that opportunity. At the age of 23 with five years of experience as a ballperson for the former Commack ATP event, and five years experience teaching tennis, I was not typical in the field of 400 who began tryouts in late June. My experience, however, didn’t assuage my nerves, in fact, it only made me more anxious since I felt as though I was expected to make it. After a try out and a call back, there was one step left, working through the qualifying rounds and officially being hired for the main draw. On Friday Aug. 27, I was told that I had made the cut and could breathe a sigh of relief.
There were quite a few highlights to my experience over the fortnight in Flushing, N.Y. The first main draw match I worked was that of Francesca Schiavone, 2010 French Open Champion. Ironically, even though it was a top 10-seeded match and on the Grandstand, the third largest court (out of 18), I was not nervous and enjoyed every moment of it. I gained a new appreciation for Schiavone’s game with the newfound opportunity to take, quite literally, a much closer look than I ever had before. Her unrelenting one-handed backhand and fearlessness on the attack were truly admirable.
After her match was completed, I got to start Robin Soderling’s first round match which left me awestruck. Soderling is particularly interesting to me since he has done what no one else in the sport has done, he has beaten Rafael Nadal in the 2009 French Open and then became the first person besides Nadal to eliminate Roger Federer at the French Open since 2004. He is a truly an entertaining player to watch and a few of his forehand shots left me in disbelief.
Other highlights included working the last few sets of the Fernando Verdasco-David Nalbandian, where Verdasco managed to stay steadier later in the match, and finishing out a Mardy Fish match, an American who is having the best season of his career.
In the main draw, the coolest match I got to work was probably the men’s doubles semifinals between the Bryan Brothers and Tommy Robredo & Marcel Granollers from Spain. It was really fascinating to see the Bryan Brothers, the winningest doubles team of all time, do their thing in person. I was particularly surprised by how hard it was to earn points against them and how they could hit seemingly weak, but well-placed, defensive shots to get back in a point even after they were against the ropes.
I also truly enjoyed working some matches in the junior draw and in the men’s quadriplegic wheelchair division. I was on court for the final two sets of the men’s quadriplegic finals and got to watch American David Wagner clinch his first major singles title. Seeing people who were wheelchair ridden, with partial hand paralysis, tape tennis racquets to their hands before battling three exciting sets, was a truly awe-inspiring experience that reinforced the idea that tennis is really a lifelong sport that can be widely accessible.
I was also privileged enough to hold an American flag during the trophy presentation for the main draw men’s and women’s singles finals. Seeing Kim Clijsters win her third U.S Open was amazing, and it was truly a heartwarming experience especially when she held the trophy and her daughter Jada.
This tournament was also historic, by clinching this U.S. Open Rafael Nadal became only the seventh man in history to win a career Grand Slam (all four major singles titles), and only the second to win a Career Golden Slam (all four major singles titles and an Olympic gold medal in singles.) Being merely feet away from Nadal when he finally received that trophy was about the most incredible thing a tennis fan could ever experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and hope that I will have to opportunity to continue to do take part again for many years to come.