U.S. Open Warm-Up and the ESPN Top 150 Ball boys

Keegan FergusonCorrespondent IAugust 4, 2010
Though primarily a fan of the major sports in the , particularly football and basketball, I tend to dabble in all sports.  I’ll even watch poker (if you can call it a sport), track, as well major golf and tennis tournaments.  With that said, I will never turn down an opportunity to watch a sporting event live. So when the IceFerg (me) was offered tickets to go to a U.S. Open tune-up tournament, the Legg Mason, I happily accepted.  Now, I’m not a huge tennis fan, I’ve only recently begun playing because The Penguin (my girlfriend – and not like the Batman villain) likes to play and a few of my friends are pretty filthy former high school players. (If you’re thinking wow, dude, you call your gf the penguin…let me tell you about the genesis of this name.  She needs a name because all bloggers name their girlfriends.  Bill Simmons and Mark Titus, two of my favorite bloggers, have nicknamed their significant others, and because I’m not original, I decided to copy them.  Since I am the Iceferg, I figured her natural nickname should be the Titanic since the two go together like peas and carrots.  She was instantly vexed with this name, thinking it was a bad fat joke (she is not fat).  I told her, because I’m the fastest thinker and most charming guy this side of the , that the name Titanic suited her because she was beautiful and elegant.  This obviously backfired, and we came up with the name Penguin (First of all, they too are associated with icebergs, and secondly, the name reminds me of the times when she goes off doing her shopping thing while I hold her purse like a manservant, just the way male penguins are forced to sit with a stupid goddamn egg on their feet for months and waddle around).

Anyway, back to tennis.  So I’ve never been that impressed with tennis in general.  I understand that it’s incredibly difficult; as does anyone who’s ever picked up a tennis racket and tried to smash forehand winners only to find out that the ball wasn’t born with a topspin instinct, but I had never appreciated just how physically grueling the sport is.  For those of you casual fans who view tennis much like I did, let me try and change your perception.  We watched Andy Roddick, John Isner, and a few others.  Seated in the front row, we were close enough that Andy Roddick was able to splash sweat on me while I inquired about Brooklyn Decker’s whereabouts.  (Word on the street has it that Andy literally saw her in a magazine, showed her to his manager, grunted like a caveman and said, “Me want date,” and they go get married.  That’s how the penguin and I got our big start, except I didn’t pick her out of a magazine, I don’t have a manager, and I had to do the legwork for the dates by myself).

Returning Serve

The average first serve I watched was somewhere between 120-130 mph.  (The court is 120 ft from baseline to baseline.) While this speed is slow in comparison to hitting a 90mph fastball from 60 ft 6 inches, it’s still pretty incredible.  They move one or two steps in either direction and then direct the ball back over the net, aiming to position the ball away from their opponent. Remember, this ball is coming at them at over 100 mph, meaning they have minimal time (what seems like negative time to me) to move, get set, scan the court and choose a target, aim, and strike. The player’s return of service game is quite impressive to me.

Length of the Match

Now, I’m no geriatric (but I wish I was banging one, I mean you, Demi Moore), but I can really only hit a tennis ball as hard as I can 50 or 60 times before I call for an icepack or a medic.  Roddick and his opponent, Grega Zemlja, were unable to dominate each other off the serve.  They played long rallies, punishing each other with groundstrokes, one after another.  I counted one rally where Roddick returned the ball seventeen times before Zemlja made a mistake.  For those of you counting at home, over the course of a match, these long rallies are going to add up to quite a bit more than 50 or 60 shots.  Equally impressive is these guys’ endurance.  Constant lateral movement coupled with the occasional charge forward to the net is tiring in a single point. These guys play several hours, hitting blazing forehands, backhands, and serves while flying around the court. (After watching the Roddick match, I became more aware of just what a physical feat the match between Isner and Mahut at must of been)  A tennis court feels like an ocean to me…these guys made it look like a ping pong table.

Ball boys and girls

The other big attraction at this event, for me at least, was watching the mishaps of the ball boys and girls.  The Penguin informed me that as the tournament goes along, they cut ball boys and girls and retain only the best. Competition is cutthroat.  Now, I have no idea how the tournament does this, but during the downtime between points, I began to evaluate the ball boys and girls performances in hope that the USTA would adopt my scoring system.

Provide a towel to a player in a timely manner- 1 point
Snag an errant ball at the net or behind the court – 1 point
Snag the ball on the run – 2 points
Sang the ball on the run with one hand – 3 points
Raise the ire of player – lose five points
Raise the ire of Roddick – lose 2 points (he’s a dick to ball boys)
Hit a player with a ball they weren’t expecting – lose ten points
Catch a serve- (two hands) 12 points  (one hand) 20 points
Get beaned by a serve – lose 10 pts
Get beaned by an Isner serve in the face – Dead (I swear on his first serve he hit some poor girl in the face, I figured karma would come back and bite him in the ass but it did not. He won)

Though the Legg Mason isn’t historically a hotbed of ball boy recruiting talent, I gave at least two kids five stars.  One shining star became Andy Roddick’s personal towel sherpa.  He wiped Andy, sweating like this guy
and made several one handed frat grabs on errant tennis balls.  While a raw talent, he looks like he could be a star.

At the end of the day, my appreciation for tennis had grown quite a bit.