Training began at the beginning of November, with 145 kids attending the first practices. There was an international mix of ball kids, hailing from Qatar, India, Egypt, the U.S., France, and our solitary Canadian. They all worked pretty hard during these somewhat repetitive practices, which lasted about two and a half hours. Over time, Nick learned that the role of a ball-boy was one of service, and that he was to be an invisible, unobtrusive pylon who frequently had to move during a match.
By Jan. 1, participation had trickled down to about 80 kids. All of the kids were given a complete uniform, including shoes. Teams were set, but only the most experienced ball-kids got to work Center Court, the big stadium at the grounds where most spectators watch. Nick and all his other freshman friends were relegated to work games at the smaller courts, which was still pretty exciting. However, on the second-last day of the tournament, he got to work the Doubles Semi-Final, which was played on one of the smaller courts, and featured none other than Rafael Nadal.
Even though I'm sure that mine were the only two eyes on my kid (apparently there was a game going on, or something), it was almost as nerve-wracking as watching your young hockey netminder make his debut between the pipes. And I couldn't help thinking about that Seinfeld episode where Kramer is a tennis ball-man, and crashes into and knocks out Monica Seles. I wonder if Nadal's mom was there, and if she felt the same way?
Thankfully, everything turned out just fine. Nick did his job well and, after eight long ten-hour days at the stadium, came away with some new friendships, a sense of opportunity seized, and some great shots of himself and his new buddy, Rafa.