Posted November 13, 2012
By BRANDON LUMISH
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — My whole body was shaking as I stood in the stadium court tunnel at the Sony Ericsson Tennis Tournament. I was getting ready to enter stadium court my first time as a ball person.
At 14 years old, I was about to ball person a match between my two favorite professional tennis players, Andy Roddick and Roger Federer, with 13,000 people watching. Suddenly, my ball person teams captain Gerard Johnson yelled, “run!” This was our cue to enter the court and take our positions.
“Towel! Towel! Can I have my fricking towel?” exclaimed Roddick. “Is it so hard to get the tennis balls and the towel at the same time!”
Having Andy Roddick scream at the top of his lungs at me was not an ideal start to my stadium experience. Almost eight years later, however, I am still a ball person at my favorite event the Sony Ericsson Open. Held every year during March, the tennis tournament is host to more than 250,000 visitors each year.
“In 2012 we set a record with over 320,000 people attending our tournament. People come from all over the world just to attend a tennis tournament in Miami,” said Adam Barrett, vice president of the tournament for the last 10 years.
Located at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, the Sony Ericsson Open, known for its purple court surface, is an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event.
Participating in an ATP 1000 event is required by all the top professional tennis players and includes a large prize pool. The tennis tournament began in 1985 and many consider the Sony Ericsson Open to be the fifth-best tennis tournament in the world.
“This is my favorite event. I absolutely love it. It’s not just a tennis tournament but it’s an event with all the festivities that go on throughout the tournament,“ Barbara Friedman, lifelong tennis fan from Miami said. “I have gone to the tournament every year for the last twelve years with my children.”
Such a prestigious tournament requires a huge ball person staff. Each year the ball person program uses 400 volunteers, mainly teenagers, to work the event.
“We are fortunate that so many ball kids want to work at the Sony Ericsson Open. Each year over 500 volunteers show up to participate. We then hold tryouts to see who will make the team. It’s sad turning people down, but with so much participation we have no other choice,” said Marc Adler, ball person president.
Once tryouts are completed, the ball person participants go through training to prepare for the tournament.
When the tournament starts, each of the 12 courts gets assigned two groups of ball people.
The more experienced people get stadium court and the court assignments trickle down from there.
“I got stadium court my first time during my third year as a ball person,” said Rebecca Dulkow. “I always came to the tournament as a fan but now I get to be on the same court as Rafael Nadal and other great tennis players I used to watch.” Dulkow has gone to the tennis tournament since she was five years old. She applied the first day that she was eligible to be a ball person as a 13-year-old.
As a ball person, I have always believed I have the best seat in the house to watch the tournament. Being that close to the action, I am able to see how hard these guys truly hit the ball. I can now understand why the tournament had to initiate instant replay on all the courts to nullify bad calls that are made by the referees.
“I was hit in the leg my first year by an Andy Roddick serve,” said Andre Gonzalez, a Key Biscayne resident who has been a ball person for four years. “There was simply no way I could have gotten out of the way.”
Ball persons work in 45-minute shifts. When we are off the court, we are allowed to go to other tennis matches on the tennis centers grounds or take part in any of the festivities going on. We also get tickets to all the other matches during our off days. Being able to watch free tennis is one of my favorite parts of being a ball person. I love watching tennis and just being at the Sony Ericsson Open is a good feeling.
The Sony Ericsson Open is such a prestigious tournament because of all the events that happen on the grounds besides tennis. Each night an event takes place such as a concert, a mixer, interaction with players and much more.
“I came to the tournament on Saturday night for the huge Nadal match and upon arriving saw there was a wine tasting event happening. It made my night even better!” Erica Bohlen, a tennis fan from New York, said.
In addition, the landscaping on the grounds of the tournament is beautiful, which is why the tournament is such a fan favorite.
Each year the tournament’s landscaping is different, but a huge fountain at the entrance has been a trademark of the tournament since its initiation.
“Just driving through Key Biscayne is beautiful,” said Angela Rhiodan, a resident of Miami who visited the tournament. “Once on site the big fountain in the front, the palm trees throughout and the magnificent landscaping make the tournament the place to be.”
Unfortunately, the facilities at the site have not been updated since 1994. But on Nov. 6, voters approved a $50 million upgrade to the facilities.
The upgrade will be paid by the tennis center, tournament revenues and by private funding. Money will not come from the county’s fund. The upgrade would include adding an additional three grand stands, renovating the current stadium, adding additional restaurants and improving the landscaping.
“Sadly, I have been at this tournament from the beginning. Huge improvements were made in 1994, but that was 18 years ago. It’s time for this tennis center to undergo a face-lift,” said ball person President Marc Adler. “These upgrades are necessary and won’t cost you a penny!”
The 2012 tournament begins March 18 and lasts until the men’s final on March 31, 2013. Last year’s champions Novak Djokovic and Agnieszka Radwanska will be there defending their crowns. I know I will be there as a ball person, I hope to see you there as well!
IF YOU GO
Sony Ericsson Open
- Located at 7300 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, Fla. 33149.
- Phone number for tickets: 305-446-2200.
- Website to buy tickets is sonyericssonopen.com.
- Tournament lasts 14 days. Each day is split into AM / PM sessions.
Crandon Tennis Center (when tournament is not in action)
- Reservations— 305-365-2300.
- Mondays-Fridays— 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Saturdays-Sundays— 8 a.m.- 7 p.m.
- All fees are hourly.
- Hard Court Fees— Adults: $4 during the day, $6 during evening. Juniors— $3 during day, $4 during evening.
- Clay Court Fees— Adults— $7 during the day, $9 during evening; Juniors— $3 during day, $4 during evening.
- Grass Courts- Adults $11 per hour, Juniors, $7.
- Stadium Fees- $13 per hour for adults, Juniors, $10.