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Inside Information: Ballboy
Photograph by Annette Navarro
In his ninth year as a ballboy for the annual Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Joe Good is plenty comfortable sharing a court with the sport’s top athletes. Though after staring down countless 150-mph serves, it’s fair to say he’s graduated from the title of ballboy to ballman.
The ballboy tryouts are a challenge. They test your knowledge of the game—how well you can keep track of the score is incredibly important. They also test your athletic ability, but if you’re a good tennis player, you should have no problem with it.
We get all the best pros here because this tournament is the last one before the U.S. Open, which is the final Grand Slam of the year. Every player wants to go out with a bang, and Cincinnati is a great place for them to do well and have a good time.
My first year, I got to do a quarterfinal match for Andy Roddick. I was a puny little 12-year-old, and here was this international superstar with the world’s fastest serve, and I felt like he was aiming right at my face.
I got hit with a Roddick serve once. It hit me in the shoulder. I couldn’t get my hands up in time. That was embarrassing.
My mom volunteered in the ballkid lounge my first year—the BK Lounge as we call it. That’s like a nirvana, man. You know how hot it can get at the tournament, but it’s freezing cold in there. It’s where we nap. It’s where we socialize and eat lunches and snacks. Just chow down in the ballkid lounge and play some euchre.
You have to try out your first two years as a ballkid. After that, you’re a ballkid for life, really.
I’m 20. This is my ninth year, so I like to think people would call me a ballman now. When I was regularly on the first rotation of ballboys for center court is when I decided I could consider myself a ballman. That, or getting drilled by a Roddick serve and not making a face or grabbing my shoulder. Just taking it.
All Eyes on Mason
The Western & Southern Open—also known as the Cincinnati Masters tournament—was first played as the Cincinnati Open back in 1899. It is currently one of the most prominent non–Grand Slam tournaments in both men’s and women’s professional tennis.
Joe Good moved around a lot growing up, living everywhere from Massachusetts to China. After graduating from St. Xavier High School, he majored in biomedical engineering at South Carolina before transferring to UC to study architectural engineering.
Racket in the Sky
“There were some really cool tennis courts in Hong Kong that were on the roofs of buildings,” says Good. “I don’t know how good I was, but I wasn’t hitting the balls over the fence and off the building, so I wasn’t too bad.”
One advantage to being a ballboy: an unrivaled view of the top tennis players in the world. “Seeing someone like Roger Federer in person, that man has such an incredible presence about him,” says Good. “It’s a very unique experience.”
Originally published in the August 2013 issue.