Kids chasing tennis balls are as much a part of Newport tournaments as the marquee players. But amid concerns about their youth and safety, not every kid makes the cut.
Photography by Jason Evans
His biggest concern is getting cut. It’s day four of the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport in the summer of 2011. The draw has been reduced down to the quarterfinals and, with only a few matches remaining, there simply is no longer a need for the full ball kid crew.
There have been five teams up to this point. Tomorrow they’ll need only a maximum of three, meaning close to half the kids won’t be coming back. Becky Silva, the ball kid coordinator, has announced that later today she’ll be informing the group of almost sixty who will be asked to return tomorrow. Return. She’s trying to keep it positive: Making the cuts is something she hates doing. Return.
But my eleven-year-old son, Addison, only hears it as potentially being cut. Two weeks ago, during the training sessions, his biggest concern was just making the ball kid crew. Now it’s staying on for another day.
It’s not clear when the ball kid became part of the tournament crew, other than that they were first used at Wimbledon in 1920. But what is clear is the fascination that people have with them.
For some in the crowd, there is a certain curiosity. Who are these kids? How did they get to stand among the giants of the game? For others, there is a cute factor — watching the kids march onto the court, balls, towels and umbrellas in hand, moving with the seriousness and order of well-mannered adults.
But television commentator Donald Dell (himself a former player and U.S. Davis Cup captain, as well as a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame) believes the ball kids are the cues for the rhythm of the match. He says they clue us in by giving a sense of the players’ pacing.
Dell’s longtime broadcast partner, Barry McKay, sees a fascination for the choreography, noting that the mechanical precision of the six kids on court has “become an art form.”
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