My mentor, 27-year-old ball person Thinh Dinh, consoled me afterward with the Question Game. We'd stand in the plaza between matches, in our totally cool Polo blue-and-white ball-person uniforms. People would ask questions, and Thinh would politely jerk them around.
Q: Do you guys get paid?
Thinh: Yes, we're paid on commission. Twenty-five cents a ball. (Real answer: Ball persons get $9 an hour.)
Q: Do you go to school for this?
Thinh: Yes, we go to Ball Person University. It's in upstate New York. (Real answer: Ball persons get a week of training just before the Open.)
I liked the Question Game so much I tried it.
Q: What's the worst part of the job?
Me: Shaving the fuzz off the balls. It gets everywhere.
Real answer: Trying to gather all the balls that are hailing on you from your five ball-person teammates while trying to get the player his stupid towel to wipe his sweat off even though he just wiped the sweat off last point, and then sprinting back to your spot, all in 14 seconds. ("And don't block the sponsor signage!" everyone reminded me.)
Andre Agassi is a pill about the service. "He's nice, but he's very, very particular," says lawyer Gary Spitz, who, at 41, has been ball-personing for 26 years. Pete Sampras didn't like anybody throwing balls behind him. Jeff Tarango gets mad if the ball is bounced to him. He wants it thrown in the air. Sorr-eee.