But for the friends and family of Woodhaven’s Brandon Roldan, they received an extra serving of hometown love when the 18-year old ballperson worked a nationally televised match between Sloan Stevens and Serena Williams.
“It was such a great experience,” said Roldan, who is now in his fourth year as a ballperson for the Open. “This year was really interesting because we had no fans, no crowd to get things going. It forced the players to focus more on themselves and their game.”
During the match, Roldan was positioned at the base behind Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Williams lost the first set 6-2 to Stevens, and Roldan could hear Williams exhorting herself to do better.
“Then she lost a critical point and I could see the look on her face, she was upset,” he said. “But then she paused and took a deep breath and said to herself, ‘it’s okay.’ She ended up winning that match and the next one to advance.”
Roldan started as a ballperson for the US Open in 2017 after signing up online for tryouts at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Center in Flushing.
“It’s a two-day tryout,” he said. “On the first day they run mock tennis matches and cycle you through trial matches. They evaluate your form, how you scoop a ball up, they like you to use both hands. They’ll watch how you roll a ball, you need a nice flat roll.
“On the second day of tryouts they put you in a match setting to see if you’ll crack under pressure,” he added.
You need to be 14 years or older to serve as a ballperson for the US Open, and there is no upper age limit. Roldan said that he’s worked alongside people in their 50s.
And though he’s been playing and watching tennis since the age of six, Roldan says that he’s seen people with no knowledge of tennis come in and succeed. The one thing you do need is athletic ability because it involves a lot of running.
This year’s tournament was extra challenging due to COVID-19.
“The majority of the matches only used three-member teams instead of the usual six,” Roldan said. “This meant a lot of extra running in the heat wearing masks. It was exhausting, but the USTA did a great job running the tournament safely.
“Usually the ballperson at the base will help serve the player, grab towels for them, get them water, all of that had to be changed this year,” he added. “We had to keep our distance from the players and still get the balls to them quickly.”
The job of the ballperson is to facilitate the game and move it along smoothly.
“The main goal of the ballperson is to not be noticed, to be so quick that the audience doesn’t even know you exist,” Roldan explained. “Being a ballperson is not only physically challenging, it’s a mental challenge as well as you need to keep track of the score, whose serving, etc.”
And you need to be paying attention at all times, as tennis balls can do damage if they hit you hard enough from close range, as we saw at this year’s tournament.
“I got hit with a serve by Kevin Anderson in the chest once, and it felt like someone shot a t-shirt out of a cannon at me,” Roldan said. “That’s why my head is on a swivel, always looking around.”
The Woodhaven native graduated from St. Thomas the Apostle and Archbishop Molloy and started this fall at St. John’s University, where he is majoring in sports management. And it sounds like he’s getting some real-world training that he’ll put to good use for years to come.
This month, the world turned their eyes towards Queens to see the very best players in the world compete for glory and prizes. And along the way, they were introduced to some of Woodhaven’s best: Neir’s Tavern and Brandon Roldan.