When watching any big tennis tournament on TV, one of the biggest differences you’ll notice from club matches and local events will be the presence of ball persons. Traditionally, these on-court helpers were called ‘ball boys’ or ‘ball girls’, or, more recently, ‘ball kids’. Today, some tournaments will accept people of any age, so they are now ‘ball persons’. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, ball persons did everything from collecting and distributing tennis balls to dealing with the players’ towels. Their role is slightly more limited now, but they still make the game a lot quicker and easier for the players. So, how do you really go about becoming a ball person?
There are various ways to become a ball boy or girl, depending upon the event. There are extensive training and trials for big tournaments, but for smaller events, it is easier to get involved. Any salary will be modest, and your key role in the progress of the match is to ensure that the players have what they need to play without delay.
How To Become A Tennis Ball Person
Your chances of being chosen for this important role differ from event to event. Some smaller tournaments will take volunteers from local schools or tennis programs. If you are associated with one of these, your chances of getting selected are good- simply volunteering might be enough to get you some time on the court.
The bigger tournaments, like the Grand Slams and the World Tour Finals, each have their own system for selecting ball persons, and none of them make it easy to get chosen.
At Wimbledon, you need to attend a local school. If you are in the right age category, around 30% of applicants are successful.
At the US Open, approximately 300 ball persons are selected in total, with half coming from the previous year’s group and the other half being chosen from a series of try-outs. Around 500 people normally apply to the try-outs, so once again, the chance of being selected is about 30%.
At the Australian Open, around 360 ball persons are chosen from roughly 2,500 applicants, who are sifted during an extensive program of trials and training, suggesting that you have just under a 15% chance of getting picked.
If you want to be a ball person at the French Open, you will need to be one of around 4,000 applicants for a year-long training program. These are eventually cut to 220, which gives you just over a 5% chance of success.
The ATP World Tour Finals are similarly selective, with a series of trials offering those who apply via the ATP website around a 10% chance of making it to the final 30.
The Average Tennis Ball Person Salary
Historically, ball persons were just unpaid volunteers who could hope for little more than some free food and a few autographs. In recent times, the trend has really been for greater professionalism in tennis officiating, and to a limited degree, this has extended to the ball persons. While the bulk of ball persons are still likely to be unpaid, the big events usually offer some form of payment.
At Wimbledon, ball persons will be paid the equivalent of a couple of hundred dollars for the fortnight, with meals provided. At the US Open, there is a modest salary, typically $7-11 per hour. In Australia, they get what is almost certainly a better deal. Although the ball persons are not paid, they get free tickets for family and friends as well as a gift such as a racket or a pair of headphones at the end. French Open ball persons are not paid but do the job for the prestige and experience.
How Old Do You Have To Be?
Each event will have its own age requirements. For example, at the Madrid Masters ATP event, for a number of years, they used 19-28 years old female models to perform the ball person role. This might be viewed as adding glamour or disappointingly sexist, depending on your perspective.
Ball persons are still most commonly schoolchildren. At Wimbledon, they need to be around 14-16. The US Open has no age limits. The Australian Open invites applications from 12-15-year-olds, whereas for the French Open, the range is 12-16.
Tennis Ball Person Responsibilities
The primary job of the ball persons is to collect the balls after a rally has finished and ensured that there is an ample supply of balls for the server when they are ready to begin the next point. Traditionally they would also have the unpleasant job of dealing with the player’s sweaty towel, as well as providing drinks and running errands. They might even have to deal with an errant moth! Some of the less appealing responsibilities have been eliminated during the COVID pandemic, with players having to deal with their own towels.
Do Tennis Ball Persons Have Training?
If the ball persons are doing their job well, they will barely be noticed. They need to be fast, quiet, and efficient, with any fumbles minimized. They also need to be well-drilled, with a clear idea of when and where to pass the balls around to get them to where they are needed. Even people with natural athletic talent will need some training to carry out the role efficiently.
The Grand Slams offer extensive training to potential ball persons, with the French Open topping the charts with its year-long training program. For the US Open, the try-outs incorporate extensive training and instruction. In Australia, there are two trial stages followed by a four-month training program. At Wimbledon, the training also takes four months.
For any tennis fan, being a ball person at a major tournament would be a fantastic experience, giving them the chance to be on the court with the great champions. If you are fit enough, why not apply?