WHO'S NERVOUS, ANYHOW?
As some thoughtful tournament players realize while others don't, a ball boy can get just as nervous as the man whacking the balls, in a capacity stadium. In order to reduce this nervousness to a minimum, the club has worked out a graded program so that the ball boy first works on the field-court matches before moving into the stadium. Usually he spends two years outside before he gets inside.
In addition to retrieving balls, he sees to it that favorite refreshments are on tap for the players. He has to find out what their special choices are. With the whim-swept Larsen, it can be Coke, and then again it can be Pepsi. With Billy Talbert it's orange juice, by the quart. Working in the stadium, in the finals and semi-finals, is a reward earned by a ball boy for good work during the preliminary rounds. This selection is left to the head ball boy who is a ball boy emeritus. While the pay isn't good, it frequently does add up to more than the straight hourly rate. It's doubled when the set goes beyond 9-7, tripled after 12-10 and quadrupled when it hits 23-21 (the last time this happened was four years ago). Five years ago Charles was on a triple-pay match between Schroeder and Gonzales that still stands as the jackpot of his career.
The craftsmanship involved in retrieving tennis balls is sharp. Some players want all the balls left on court until there's a break in the action. Others want them picked up almost at once. A third type—the most difficult for the ball boy—refuses to make a decision and tells the retriever to use his own judgment. "The thing is," Charles says thoughtfully, "you've got to develop a sixth sense about where every stray ball is lying, not pick them up while your man is serving, but go get them when the other guy is ready to serve."
Among the rewards rated on the terrific side by ball boys is to have a victory-happy player be so delighted by his retriever's work that he gives him one of his own rackets. It rarely happens and when it does it's always in the finals.
Naturally everyone likes to be on the inside of dramatic sports action as well as to see his picture in the paper. And those rewards in themselves are probably enough to make up for the pressure, the personality problems, and the poor pay that seem to be the lot of the Forest Hills bouncers.