Click photo to hear Jim McLennan talk about his ball kids and being at the SAP Open.
We started a ball kid project at our club in 1997. Our initiation was in a private practice with Brad Gilbert and Andre Agassi, on a rainy afternoon at the Courtside Club in Los Gatos. Two of my ball kids
(Patrick and John) and I stood in a corner as Brad and Andre took the court, no one else in the building. They started warming up, a ball rolled near us, Patrick threw it to Brad, and he motioned for the boys to assist from the corners, saying “Nice arm kid, got any stick in your bat?” And for the next hour I was transfixed from my courtside viewpoint as they swatted it back and forth. This led to assignments at the Bank of the West, the Fed Cup, The Sybase Open, Siebel Open, even the Senior Masters tour. (We later learned what to say, were we asked about “stick in the bat” for indeed he had that too.)
Over the years our squads have worked for Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams, Anna Kournikova, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, John McEnroe, Henri LeConte, Mark Phillipousis, Jim Courier, and many, many more. At one senior event the kids were stunned to hear McEnroe's courtside vulgarities, coming off court either incredulous, or delighted with the new words they may have learned. At another, a jubilant Justin Gimelstob high fived
one of ball kids (Kevin) after winning a match, and nearly knocked him down. At yet another we worked the Siebel Open final where Hewitt beat Agassi 7-6, 5-7, 7-5.
Agassi looked fine in the early rounds but appeared to be huring in his match against Melzer.
And it must be said, ball kids are trained quite specifically. There are patterns to where the balls are thrown. All throws arrive smartly to their destination on just one bounce. The kids must be quick, but also quiet, moving noiselessly about, in a sense transparent. They must all know the score at all times. The balls at the back of the court on the server's end must be evenly distributed between the two backcourt kids. And, I must say, after all these years our, squad is pretty darn good.
So this year, we were assigned Friday night, a plum spot generally featuring two quarterfinal matches. The players, however, are not generally known until the end of play on the previous evening. Late Thursday night I receive the schedule. We would work first Andre Agassi vs. Jurgen Melzer, followed by Andy Roddick vs. Thomas Enquist. Needless to say the kids were delighted. And by evenings end we had been treated to some amazing tennis.
Agassi was hurting; his movement to the forehand was not up to his normal standards. Further, his forehand was off, and tellingly so. It appears the hip injury he incurred prior to the Australian Open may have reoccurred, for his right side was definitely suspect. And a word about footwork. As the players move about the court, it is the back foot that they stop and position on in order to shift and unwind into the ball. Moving to the backhand they stop and position on the left foot and leg; moving to the right they stop and position on the right leg. When scrambling, this stopping leg takes even more shock from the ground. And, as pertains to the open stance forehand, again the back or right leg is the driver. With Agassi's sore right hip, everything on the forehand side was just not
Roddick is just a flat out fighter.
I hope he has a little more in the tank. He is the elder statesman of our game, and though I do not expect him to play forever, I never tire watching him pound the ball. Yet, on this night he fell to Jurgen Melzer, he of wicked ground strokes and the softest of backhand drop shots, 6-3, 6-1.
Roddick is just a flat out fighter. Enquist played more crisply, his forehand winners were deadly accurate, and he appeared to have the best of Roddick in their backcourt exchanges, where Roddick often resorted to sidespin backhands, more or less spinney floaters, and court positioning generally well behind the baseline.
For someone with such a big serve,
is actually a pretty good retriever. That said, Enquist takes the first set, then in the second set tiebreaker he soon trails 0-6. Roddick is cruising, only to look up to see Enquist serving at 5-6, three points from victory. At this juncture, Bill Rapp, the SAP tournament director, sitting just in front of us, visibly tightened just ever so slightly. But Roddick pulls out the tiebreaker, barely, and they are off on the third set.
Bill begins to relax again. Players on serve in the final set, then at 5-6 Enquist opens with a double fault, Roddick whips a forehand pass for love 30 and closes the match at 15 when Enquist clips the tape on a forehand drive. Roddick served well in the final set, but otherwise just hung in there. Not terribly accurate. Not terribly offensive. But totally engaged in the contest. Engaged for every single point. 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-5.
Our kids are learning a lot from this gentleman.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement