Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ballcrew at the Rogers Cup Tennis Tournament and elsewhere

You've seen them on television while watching tennis. They are the ones that run across the tennis court to pick up the tennis ball after the point has ended. They also that supply the server with tennis balls. Yes, you know who I am talking about, the ball crew at a tennis match.

The ball crew play a very important role in tennis matches; however, they do more than what is shown on television. Not only do they retrieve and supply balls for the players, but members of the ball crew also help stock the court with towels, balls and water, set up the scoreboard, and operate the on-court clock. Ideally, the ball crew members should never really be noticed. Pulling a Kramer would be a bad thing (i.e. running into and injuring a player during the final match of the US Open).

If you are interested in becoming a member of the ball crew for the Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Toronto, here is some general information about the selection process.

The ball crew for the Toronto event comprises of about 80 people every year, and of those 80, more than half of those positions are reserved for returning ball crew members. As a result, approximately 30 of the remaining positions are filled via a tryout process. With typically more than 200 candidates attending tryouts, competition is tight for these highly prestigious positions. There are also age restrictions for ball crew members, as need to be within the ages of 12-18. New members are further restricted to the ages of 12-16. There are usually two tryout stages, and those that are selected have further practise sessions prior to the tournament.

If you want to tryout, here are some traits that make for a good ball crew member:

  1. Physical Skills - a ball crew member need to be able to catch, throw and run. These skills are required in order for a ballcrew member to function efficiently and unnoticeably on the tennis court.
  2. Hustle - a ball crew member needs to realize that at the end of each point, the ball isn't going to magically roll to them. They have to quickly get the ball, and then get back to position. Slackers won't make it far in this selection process.
  3. Attention to detail - a ball crew member needs to always be aware of where the tennis balls need to be, after every point. They need to know the score and act accordingly (i.e. which side of the court to be on, when to change balls, positioning at net during serves, position of other ball crew members etc).

The first tryouts for the Toronto tennis tournament occur in the spring (late April/early May) before each tournament. For those that are interested, information and application forms for ball crew tryouts usually appear in early March at the tournament website (available through http://www.tenniscanada.com/). While most ball crew for this upcoming tournament are from the Toronto area, there are some that come from further away for this opportunity. Here is the story of an Oneonta, New York teenager who was selected to be on this year's ball crew.

For other tennis tournaments, each has its own set of criteria and procedures for its ball crew selection process. For example, here is the US Open press release calling for ball crew tryouts, and this follow writeup describes what happened at this year's tryouts. And here is a website describing the ball crew selection process at Wimbledon. Check with your local tournament to see how you can become a member of their ball crew.

The Evolution of Ballcrews

Recent events at the Madrid Men's Tennis Masters Series event and Sony Ericsson Championships tournament for the WTA have courted controversy (excuse the pun) with their ball crew selection criteria.

A couple of years ago, the Madrid TMS tournament, instead of having the 'traditional' ballcrew-type to pick up stray balls and hand towels to players, employed 19- to 28-year-old models to serve as ballcrew on televised courts. Despite protests, tournament organizers plan to continue using these models as ball crew for this year. Perhaps as a reaction to this move, the WTA is following suit, by having seven male models with tennis knowledge to act as ball crew at the women's end-of-season championship tournament, co-incidentally also in Madrid.

Here are some pictures of the models performing ball crew duties.

Here is a video of these models going through ball crew training

What do you think of this? Some argue that this takes away from the tennis (i.e. people should be watching the players, and not the ball crew). Others say that any publicity is good publicity. Who knows, if this idea really catches fire, would the Rogers Cup or other tournaments change their ball crew selection criteria to follow suit with what is happening in the two Madrid events?

Feel free to leave comments.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think if this means that more people will either be in audience or increase television interest, it can't be totally bad.

It looks like regular ballcrew are used elsewhere in the competition anyways so they aren't completely losing out either.