After four weeks of training, two Kendall teenagers will get to work up close and personal with some of tennis’ biggest stars at the Miami Open.
Best friends Isabella Menendez, 14, and Laura Guerra-Lopez, 15, trained once a week for five hours at Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park Tennis Center before being selected as two of the 400 ball persons needed for the event.
The Miami Open begins on Monday and lasts for two weeks. This year features Roger Federer, an 18 major-title holder, Novak Djokovic, a 12-time Grand Slam champion and Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion.
Ball persons are responsible for providing and positioning tennis balls during the matches and looking after players’ other needs, including getting them water, towels or fruit, said Marc Alder, who oversees the program.
“Ball person is a very important role. They are almost the invisible heroes of tennis,” he said. “They have the ability to determine the outcome of an entire match. I say this because if a ball person drops a ball, then the match has to stop.”
Hundreds of applicants from across the nation and globe seek out the job, said Alder. Ball persons must be 13 or older, be mature, trustworthy and exhibit speed and athleticism. Tennis experience, however, is not required.
Isabella, who had not played the game before, said she was excited about the opportunity to take part in an international event with the added bonus of getting community service hours. Other perks of being a ball person include free Lacoste uniforms, meal credits, 10 stadium passes for friends and family and a dance party at the end of the tournament.
“You get to meet all these people, and it’s fun to watch,” she said.
Laura, who worked as a ball person during the 2016 Miami Open, has played tennis for the past two years at Miami Killian Senior High School. She said she plans to use the experience as a way to improve her own skills.
“Since tennis is mostly muscle memory, I can study the players’ techniques to see what I can use,” she said.
Training took place on Saturdays beginning in early February. Applicants were required to attend three of the four trainings where they were trained on ball rolling, presentation, agility and how to walk on and off the court.
Isabella said she attended all four to get an extra advantage. Her best friend also gave her pointers, and they practiced together once a week. Her biggest challenge was competing with other veteran ball persons.
“It was hard trying to keep up with kids who have already done the tournament, especially when they are looking at your skills,” she said.
As a first-timer, Isabella has to attend an additional training to further prepare.
Both said they are proud of being chosen and plan on trying out again next year. Isabella said she now wants to join her tennis team at Coral Reef High School, but after graduation she plans on working to become a neurosurgeon. Laura has her sights on becoming a human rights lawyer.
“I worked hard and I am looking forward to seeing the tennis players,” Isabella said. “It feels good to know that an average person like me gets to take part in a grand event like the Miami Open.”