What It’s Like Being a US Open Ballperson

Justin Holmes is a veteran US Open ball person
Justin Holmes is a veteran US Open ball person | Mark Choi / © Culture Trip

Justin Holmes provides an intimate look into his yearly summer job as one of the ballpersons at the US Open, a grand slam tennis event held in New York City.

Justin Holmes first tried out to be a US Open ballperson when he was 14 years old. Admittedly, he was nervous. Scared out of his mind. His emotions got the best of him, affecting his throwing, retrieving and movement.

“I thought it was a disaster,” Holmes says.

Contrary to his own beliefs, Holmes did well enough to earn a callback. He was more confident this time around and, sure enough, earned a position during the three-week event held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Today, Holmes, 20, is one of the veteran ballpersons at the the tournament, having worked more than 100 matches. He assists Tina Taps, US Open director of ballpersons, and her staff in finding the new crop of talent each year.

Justin Holmes is a veteran US Open ballperson

“I think a good ballperson first and foremost knows tennis,” says Holmes, a student at Boston College. “Tennis IQ is high so you understand the way a match works, you understand the points, you understand the way tennis goes. They’re athletic, they can be on court and do really well. Most importantly, a good ballperson has a good personality, a really good attitude; they’re just positive and work well with others.”

Much like his initial tryout, the New York City native let his nerves and emotions get the best of him during his early days as a ballperson. He was starstruck when being passed by some of the game’s legends: Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal. While Holmes doesn’t get starstruck anymore, that doesn’t mean he isn’t in awe of certain players showcasing their amazing abilities mere feet away.

“There are certain times you’re definitely left standing with your mouth open thinking, ‘I can’t believe he or she just did that; that’s amazing,’” he says.

Holmes explains that once someone has earned a spot as one of the select 275 ballpersons for a tournament, they are assigned courts based on their skill level. Obviously a first-timer won’t be standing behind Federer at the final on the storied Arthur Ashe Stadium court, but may get the Swiss maestro in earlier rounds.

Justin Holmes (right) assisting during the 2018 US Open ballperson tryout

Ballpersons develop a rapport with certain players, knowing their habits and idiosyncrasies like when he/she needs their towel or what certain hand gestures may suggest they are requesting.

“That makes the match go a lot smoother and faster for them and makes them more comfortable,” Holmes says. “Then you become a familiar face for them all the time. That’s how you get assigned.”

While certain ballpersons won’t stay with Federer the entire tournament, for example, he will see more friendly faces than not as he advances through each round.

For Holmes, a lifelong New Yorker and avid tennis player and fan, working as a ballperson at the US Open is the closest to being in the tournament without actually playing in it.

“Just the environment and being from New York, to me, it’s special,” he says. “There’s just something different about New York. Us New Yorkers know how to have a good time and we know how to be great fans, so winning here and attending the US Open is probably like no other experience you’ll have in your lifetime.”

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

X
close-ad
Edit article