Ball boys and girls are a tradition in the tennis world. But at the U.S. Open, which starts during the summer and concludes after grade school classes have resumed for the fall, adults have traditionally stepped in to pick up the workload of departing young kids.
Labor Day traditionally serves as the mid-point of the U.S. Open. And, because the holiday came so late this year, it's pushing the tournament even farther into the school year, according to Tom Perrotta of The Wall Street Journal. That, combined with school dates starting earlier than usual in New York this year, has created an unprecedented need for adult ball boys and girls -- that is, ball men and women.
"It's never happened like that before," said Tina Taps, the person in charge of U.S. Open ball persons, to the WSJ. "I'm hopeful that we have enough over-18s that we can get through the second week."
Because so much of the tournament remains, the U.S. Open is having to seek out more adult ball persons this year than ever before -- and it has created a legitimate strain on event organizers. The U.S. Open has been forced to dive so deep into the well that one of its ball persons is a 56-year-old who sells custom curtains for a living, and who has never served as a ball person before.
Yet that 56-year-old passed the physical requirements to be a ball person, and they are tough enough that success isn't automatic. Individuals must be able to throw tennis balls long distance with accuracy -- roughly 80 feet through the air -- to keep the game moving fluidly.
Ball persons must also pay attention to the game and be able to spend several hours out on the hard court, often in full sun and high heat.
In total, about 400 people tried out to be a U.S. Open ball person, and 260 are needed to run the entire tournament. Typically reserved for teenagers, there are 39 people older than 30 working as ball persons this year.
And now that school has started, the older workers are taking up the spotlight -- a trend reminiscent of a memorable Seinfeld moment: