The ball person, who didn't wish to be identified, talked to Deadspin about what it's like to be next to tennis legends

By Jason Duaine Hahn
September 17, 2019 08:00 PM

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be on the court as the best players in tennis duke it out in front of you, an anonymous ball person is spilling all the details.

In an interview with Deadspin, the unidentified ball person — who has worked the U.S. Open — shared their unique stories of legendary players like Roger Federer, 38, and Rafael Nadal, 33. This includes the things the players might do when the TV cameras aren’t on them, like when they switch sides (called a changeover).

“Roger’s just really calm and if he’s agitated then you know there’s something bothering him,” they told the outlet. “Trying to think about other players — they don’t generally stand out too much.”

“A lot of them are just in their own moments all those 90 seconds, two minutes,” they continued. “And we’re still trying to do our job and concentrate during those too, because they have their needs and they ask us for stuff all of the time.”

Over the years, the ball person noticed some unusual routines, such as how some players ask for balls.

“[Nadal] always goes to the ad court [left side] and then the deuce court [right side] for his balls, like during warmup or something. So he’ll always say two,” they told Deadspin. “Even though I’m always showing him the two, just because I know that’s what he wants. Other players, I give all three or all four, depending on how many I have out of the six balls. But he always says two, and then he always goes to the partner in the back for one.”

Rafael Nadal
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“So he’s always got a routine for every point, how he handles the balls, handles the towels during the water breaks, how he puts the water bottles in the same spots—that’s the classic one,” they add of Nadal. “But he’s the one guy that’s got a whole routine going with every point before every game before warmups. It’s very noticeable.”

Nadal is also picky about how he uses his towels, the ball person said, claiming he would only wipe his face with one side and may have once taken towels from his hotel room so he wouldn’t have to use the ones provided by the U.S. Open.

“Last year, I think he took them from his hotel, because I think sometimes the players complain about how dry the regular white towels are at the Open,” the ball person recalled. “So he had his own Nike duffel bag full of towels that were definitely from his hotel. And I remember feeling them, I’m like, These are actually really nice. They’re very heavy, they’re very plush, they’re very soft. And I thought he was just stealing them when he put them back in his duffel bag. I was like, Oh yeah, these definitely aren’t U.S. Open towels. These have to be from his hotel or something.”

Roger Federer
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When it comes to Federer, the ball person says, the 20-time Grand Slam-winner has always shown a keen awareness for everything that is happening around him.

“Roger knows where everything is on the court at all times. It’s something that, if you watch a lot of matches, you pick up on, but if he sees a ball person in the back who’s short one ball, and he’s on the receiving side, he will just hit that ball directly to that ball person,” they said. “He’s done it before. He used to be a ball boy in Basel, in Switzerland. But yeah, it’s just little things like that. These guys definitely know everything that’s happening on court.”