Tourists and Manhattanites don’t come to
But something happens here every summer about this time. Tennis fans return to roost, like
I’m a card-carrying white person, but I’m not so big on the tennis. Sure, all the back and forth, combined with the grunting and sweating, can be exciting. But I still prefer to watch eleven large men in pads running into eleven other large men in pads, all of whom are grunting and sweating. (Maybe those last two sentences don’t belong together.) I played a lot of tennis as a kid, in summer camp and with my grandfather. We would hit tennis balls on his neighbor’s court many afternoons and then ruin our dinners with watermelon and root beer floats. But even fond childhood memories couldn’t make me a fan of the sport. Tennis can be kind of boring.
I went to the US Open qualifiers last Thursday. The week before the tournament, the wannabes and also-rans compete for the chance to lose to the players you’ve heard of. The timing once again lined up with my unemployment – another seemingly annual event. Entry was free, but the crowds were sparse – mostly teenagers and old people. It was a great way to spend a breezy summer afternoon, without shelling out your hard-earned tax dollars.
I found myself easily distracted throughout the match, first by the corporate sponsor banners lining the court’s perimeter.
More interesting than the match and the advertising was the ball boy etiquette. Each match had a six-person ball boy crew. (Half the crew were, in fact, girls, but I’m not going to derail my informative yet whimsical prose with a pointless gender dispute.) Two were stationed behind each player and two manned (see, womanned just sounds weird) the net. Before a point, a ball boy offered the server a ball, and then another, and then another, from which the player chose two. The player served, the other returned it, blah, blah, blah. Afterward, a net ball boy fetched the shot that ended the point. Another offered each player a towel to wipe his brow and racket handle. The others threw balls to each other, ensuring that ball boys behind the server had an ample supply. The process repeated for a couple games. The players then got a rest, but a ball boy’s work is never done. One held an umbrella above each player’s head to block the hot New York sun. Others provided towels and water. The remaining stood at attention until the match started back up.
Being a ball boy is a science and an art. I found myself waiting for points to end so they could execute their duties. I even wondered what it would take to be a ball boy, aside from a time machine and parents who pay my bills. Could I dart across the court at any moment, scoop up a tennis ball and duck into my corner before a 120 mph serve took my head off? Could I remember how many tennis balls to offer up the serving player, and how and when he wants his sweaty towel? I don’t mean to sound flip. I actually thought about this stuff. Alas, it’s not the job for me. I need work that allows me to buy beer, watches and financial products. Maybe then I won’t find tennis so boring.