The best seat in the house at a professional tennis tournament is not found at center court loge, not in the luxury suites, or in the front row along the baseline. These are coveted positions, of course, but none compare to the experience of a ballkid, situated on court and mere steps away from the greatest tennis players in the world.
“We get a better view than people who spend hundreds of dollars,” says Kyla, a 17-year old from Rancho Mirage, one of dozens of ballkids who scurried around the grounds, in queue and moving in unison from stadium to stadium throughout three weeks of the BNP Paribas Open. Their trademark blue and green uniforms help them stand out among everyone else, and they are unmistakable on court as they chase balls, deliver towels, and play a pivotal role in maintaining the pace of every match.
The role of a ballkid is not without preparation and training, according to 15-year old Brendan, of Palm Springs, Calif. Learning the ropes is a process that begins in January, with rookies spending up to eight hours in training on practice courts at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. From ball toss and roll to switching of sides and moving equipment where it needs to be, ballkids study very specific timing and movements to excel in their role. The four-day training (fewer for more seasoned ballkids) is worth it for these youngsters, who find themselves in the center of it all when tournament play begins.
Kyla, a fourth year ballkid from Rancho Mirage, admits that studying the pros for tips and pointers is rather difficult due to the busywork being done on court. “We don’t have time to analyze the players,” she says, “but still, you’re on the court to experience it.”
There’s still a great deal of access for ballkids to meet the world’s best tennis players. Nina, a 14-year old from La Quinta, was quick to chase autographs of her favorite players, including Vania King, Caroline Wozniacki, and US Open champ Sloane Stephens. She’d hoped to get some scribble from Hyeon Chung, the young Korean favorite, before the tournament ended.
Ultimately, the biggest perk of the job is the chance to physically immerse themselves in the match. Players come to ballkids for towels between points, look to the youngsters for a new ball or a water bottle, and hide from the sun under umbrellas held by a young boy or girl.
And the ballkids? It’s true – they’ve truly got that best seat in the house.