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Golden Retriever
Rick Reilly
September 19, 2005
We despise tennis pros.
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September 19, 2005

Golden Retriever

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We despise tennis pros.

They don't speak to us. They don't look at us. They don't acknowledge us. We mean slightly less to them than mealworm excrement.

And yet, how could Roger Federer have won without us? Or Kim Clijsters? In fact, without us, how could the 2005 U.S. Open have been held at all?

We are ball persons. We fetch their balls, their towels, their water and ice. We stand in the punishing sun and shade them with umbrellas, as if each of them were the infant prince of Siam.

And yet do they thank us? Do they offer us high knuckles? Do they tip? No, they do not. We are their appendix--they don't notice us until we bother them.

I know. I was one of the 250 ball persons at the Open, even though I was 30 years older, a foot taller and three ephedra slower than just about everyone else.

Still, wasn't I there for you, Meghann Shaughnessy, on court 9 in your doubles victory? Didn't I bounce the balls perfectly to you, except for the one off your ankle? Didn't I stand perfectly still between serves, apart from that one time when I thought you'd already hit two? You bet your spanky pants I did! And yet when I approached you afterward and asked for your evaluation of my work, you said, "You were out there? Today?"

Your partner, Nadia Petrova, might remember me. I'm the one who chased a ball that wound up in the mitts of a middle-aged woman in the stands. She wouldn't throw the damn thing back. "Ma'am, please!" I mouthed. And she snipped, "We're supposed to be able to keep them this year!"

"Only on the Arthur Ashe court," I snipped back.

That's when I realized Petrova was staring AK-47 holes in me, waiting for me to return to my spot before her next serve. Oops.

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