In late August, tourists and locals alike pick up the pace to squeeze the last bit of summer out of Maine. One more beach day. One last trip to the island. The final Saturday morning doubles group. For Morgan Warner, August means the U.S. Open — hot town summer in the city — and Flushing Meadows, chasing down balls for the best tennis players in the world.
“Ever since I was really little I would watch tennis with my family and say ‘I want to be out there. I want to be on the same court as Djokovic.’ When I turned 14, I emailed the U.S. Open director, asked them when (ballperson) tryouts were– and off I went.
Each year over 400 people tryout for 80 positions. Once Morgan committed, she was run through a gauntlet of tests.
“I got to Flushing Meadows and there was this giant line. They called us by name, asked some basic questions — do you play tennis, do you know how to keep score — stuff like that.”
In addition to passing the basics, there were on-court trials.
“They hit a few balls into the net and had you fetch them to test your agility to see how you moved on court. On the application, you had to indicate whether you wanted to play at the net or baseline or both. I chose the net because (at the time) I couldn’t throw the whole length of the court.
The Open is one of the few events where ballpersons are required to throw the ball, not roll them, between the net and baselines.
When it came time to work, Morgan had to show up bright and early. Luckily, her aunt lives in nearby Rye, where she stays during the Open.
“Each day you have two shifts. You’re assigned to a court. You wait for players to come and then form a line. As soon as the players put their bags down, we all scatter to our spot.
Being a ballperson is more than retrieving balls.
“We had to get the players’ water, towels– Gatorade. After two hours we would get an hour-and-a-half break. We got $30 per day on our credentials for food— and the food there is really good!
Warner said the players were great, though some were more needy than others. (Morgan wasn’t naming names.) By virtue of their 130 mph serves, these athletes create a dangerous work environment, as she soon discovered.
“I was behind and below the court for Del Potro’s match. The balls bounce off the walls in there, but it’s a great angle. You can see everything. Players stare in at you. I was on my phone when I felt this ball glance my head. It was Juan Martin’s serve,” she said with a huge smile.
Morgan has served as a ballperson for the past two U.S. Opens. There’s a good chance you’ll see the Waynflete freshman minding the net — and dodging serves — in New York again this year, making summer last just a little bit longer.