Do you want to become a US Open ball person? You must pass these exercises.

Try these exercises to find out if you have the stamina, flexibility, and coordination to compete in a professional tennis match.

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Each year, hundreds of people vie for a spot on the US Open Ball Crew, those speedy companions who roam the court during the US Open retrieving unpredictable tennis balls without stopping a game.

It’s not an easy job. Applicants must complete rigorous drills that test court awareness, agility, and the ability to roll, catch, and throw a tennis ball.

Although they are commonly referred to as “ball kids,” there is no age limit to being a ball person. Brian Auerbach, from Temecula, California, became a ball man in 2009 at the age of 28 when the teenagers he was supervising convinced him to give it a try. Since then he has worked at the Summer Grand Slam tennis tournament almost every year. This year’s US Open ends on September 11th.

“It was really very surprising to me that there was no age limit,” said Auerbach, now a 41-year-old US Open Ball Crew supervisor. “I had no idea I could be a ballboy at the US Open, which turned out to be a dream come true.”

Being a ball person requires a lot of bending, lunging, crouching and standing – as well as the ability to sprint around the court in hot and humid conditions while remaining unobtrusive.

This year, about half of the 300-strong ball crew have done the job before, and the rest came from a pool of 850 online applicants, said Tiahnne Noble, director of the US Open ball crew. About 450 people were invited to the test matches in June due to the strength of their applications. A tennis background helps but is not a guarantee. Baseball players who are often good at throwing and catching are good candidates, as are runners who have stamina, Auerbach said. “We may not look for all of those things in one person, but all of those things are good indicators of someone who could be good at this job,” he said.

Everything you need to know about the US Open

can you make the cut Satoshi Ochi, the US Tennis Association’s chief strength and conditioning coach, recommends only trying it for a future tournament if you can comfortably walk a mile without stopping. “It doesn’t have to be a super fast pace,” he said. But “if you can’t jog continuously or walk a mile, that’s going to be a problem.”

When you’re ready, put on your tennis shoes and give these exercises a try. They might just have what it takes to make the crew.

To practice rolling, take three balls and line up at the baseline in the double lane. Quickly roll the balls down the lane to the net. The key is to keep balls low and flat with minimal bounce. Position your body as if you are doing a lunge.

Focus on getting low, said Joey Ramsey, ballplayer co-chair at the Citi Open tennis tournament in DC and 2016 US Open ballplayer. “That will help minimize bounce and improve your accuracy instead of shooting from the hip and creating a very springy roll,” he said.

Evan Constanza teaches Jeff Zhang how to roll tennis balls properly. (Video: The Washington Post)

To catch, have a partner roll three balls towards you. Don’t try to catch a ball with one hand. Instead, Ramsey trains ballers to squat and position their hands palms outward to form a “backboard.”

“If you try to catch the ball from top to bottom and you miss it, it goes through and through your legs,” he said.

Joey Ramsey demonstrates how to catch a tennis ball being rolled into a ball person. (Video: The Washington Post)

Being a ball person often requires quick bursts of speed. When Auerbach assesses agility, he looks at the speed of the person’s first two steps and compares it to a basketball player trying to reach the basket. “Those first two steps mean everything,” he said.

Try these two exercises to test your speed. First, position three balls on the court – near the net, on the service line, and between the service line and the baseline. Now sprint to collect one ball at a time, returning to the baseline each time. “There is nothing special [goal] time,” Noble said. “We just want them to get it done as soon as possible.”

Jeff Zhang goes through an agility and speed exercise that requires him to run back and forth. (Video: The Washington Post)

Next, stand near the net and have one person hit balls into the net. If that person nets a ball in the half closest to you, sprint to pick up the ball with both hands, then sprint back to your original position. When the ball hits the other half of the net, sprint to pick up the ball and run to the other side of the net. Use two hands to pick up the ball. If the ball is hit over the net, don’t move. The point is not over yet.

“Every drop is a delay in matchplay,” Ramsey said.

Jeff Zhang runs a quick exercise for net position. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Serve” means throwing balls to the player who is serving. It can be challenging as professional tennis players vary in height. Reilly Opelka stands at 6-foot-11 while Diego Schwartzman is 5-foot-7. Position yourself near the back of the court and have a partner with a racquet stand near the baseline. Hold three balls between your two hands at shoulder height and elbows bent. When the server signals the ball, it is your job to pass it to the player. Noble recommends that you aim the ball about three-quarters of the way down the player and the ball should be about waist-high.

“Point your elbow where you want the ball to go,” she said.

Don’t jump at players’ feet or throw your weapon at them. “If that ball goes past because your jump wasn’t good enough, one of your teammates has to cover you and pick up the ball that’s right in the middle of the court,” Ramsey said.

Be ready to catch the balls the player rejects.

Evan Constanza and Jeff Zhang practice how to accurately bounce a ball to a player. (Video: The Washington Post)

Once selected, you will be part of a crew of six on each court, either as a net or as a back.

During match play, there are six ball people on the field. The four defenders are located at each corner of the court and their job is to throw balls to the serving player. The two net positions kneel at opposite ends of the net and are responsible for collecting the balls after the point and rolling them to the back positions. Net position requires a lot of back and forth sprinting.

Ahead of the 2018 US Open, ball people hand-tossed the balls between positions, but organizers changed the rule to underhand rolls in an attempt to attract a broader group of applicants. Since the pandemic, US Open ball people also no longer have to deal with players’ towels, another responsibility that required sprinting.

At the US Open, the ball team is usually on the court for 90 minutes, followed by a break of the same time. Ball people aged 18 and over can play matches all day and into the night. The US Open ball crew requires that ball people work four days of the qualifying tournament and at least 10 days of the main draw.

“I like doing that,” says Auerbach. “The fact that we’re not limited by age here, that someone in their 30s, 40s, 50s … can come out and try it and do it, I think is a really great thing.”

Designed by Chelsea Conrad.

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