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Tennis: North Marion grad Jeff Carroll experiences U.S. Open up close as ballperson

by: COURTESY PHOTO - North Marion alumnus Jeff Carroll (right) reaches for Carlos Berlocq's towel at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Carroll worked at the Grand Slam event for the second year in a row.One was a top-50 tennis player competing in one of the biggest tournaments of the year.

The other was tense.

One earned a chance to go head-to-head against 17-time major champion Roger Federer in the second round of U.S. Open in New York.

The other was nervous.

One was Argentine star Carlos Berlocq.

The other was North Marion High School alumnus Jeff Carroll, a ballperson at the Grand Slam event for the second year in a row.

“He was telling me to relax and calm down,” Carroll said. “I was (responsible for) bringing him his towel, but there’s so much going on. You have to be energetic to get all the balls and get his towel. It can get really tiring. So he just told me to relax.”

The exchange with Berlocq is one of many moments that stood out in Carroll’s mind as he reflected on his demanding yet sometimes-disregarded duties as a ballperson at the U.S. Open.

Carroll, an Aurora product who is currently a senior at Southern Oregon University, was one of several hundred people working the sidelines and baselines at the nation’s marquee tennis event.

He often clocked 12-hour shifts during the tournament, which wrapped up last month, fulfilling his duties at scores of matches over the course of several weeks.

But he’d happily do it all over again.

“I couldn’t turn down a second year,” he said. “That first year was a dream come true.”

Well before the 2012 edition of the tournament, Carroll was scrolling through Facebook when he came across a post by the Pacific Northwest branch of the United States Tennis Association. Its message: U.S. Open ballpersons wanted.

“I told my dad and looked at the application just for fun and thought I’d apply, not thinking I would actually get it,” he said.

Carroll, who played tennis in high school before becoming president of Southern Oregon’s club team, filled out the long application. Shortly thereafter, he was called in for an interview and told he would be evaluated during a tournament at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Beaverton.

“I ended up getting it,” said Carroll, who also received a scholarship to help cover his expenses. “Not very many people apply. I don’t think they get the word out that much. It’s not that hard.

“The first year, it was really a dream come true. I’m a big tennis fan, but I had never seen a professional tennis match in person before. Every match, I was loving it and enjoying it.”

One of the highlights of Carroll’s experience in 2012 was being on the court for one of French star Gilles Simon’s televised matches. Another was teaching Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Missy Franklin how to swing a racquet during rehearsal for an Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day flash mob dance to “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen.

“We were all lined up in our spots,” Carroll said. “She comes over and swings a tennis racquet like a baseball bat and says, ‘How do you swing a tennis racquet?’ So I told her to swing low to high, and she did it. I said, ‘Looks great.’ That was pretty cool.”

But Carroll didn’t get the full experience last year — he was only a ballperson for two weeks of the tournament. So, this year, he returned to Flushing Meadows for the duration of the event, from the early rounds in late August to Rafael Nadal’s four-set victory against Novak Djokovic in the men’s singles final Sept. 9.

During the qualifying matches, he learned a few pointers from experienced ballpersons in a more relaxed atmosphere. He then worked numerous matches, including many in the junior ranks, served as a flag holder and was on duty for almost all of the finals.

“The men’s and women’s finals — that really made the trip,” Carroll said. “Being in Arthur Ashe Stadium and seeing Nadal and Djokovic right up close was amazing.”

As a rookie last year, Carroll was usually given assignments opposite the chair judge because the chair side of the court is where the players put their towels. Ballpersons working the chair side are responsible for sweat control.

“If you do the towels, you’ve got to look at the player and watch them to see if they want their towel,” he said. “This year, I did the towel almost every match. Women don’t ask for their towels as much, but some men ask for it every point. It can get really tiring. And some have to have everything their way. It can be pretty hard.”

Still, Carroll said it was satisfying to return to the U.S. Open because he had kept tabs on the careers of some of the athletes he watched the first time around.

He also had the opportunity to high-five British star Andy Murray, who won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in July.

“That was one of the most amazing moments of my life because I’ve been a huge Andy Murray fan,” Carroll said.

Carroll also squeezed in a few sightseeing expeditions during his trip to the East Coast. He swung through Times Square, sliced through Central Park and stopped at the Bronx Zoo. He also took a harbor cruise and visited the Sept. 11 memorial, which he didn’t see last year. He capped his journey with a meal at the Nathan’s Famous hot dog joint in Coney Island.

He was home in Aurora for a couple weeks last month, but he’s now back in Ashland for school. Classes began Sept. 30.

Carroll, who is considering a future as a probation officer, said he thought about playing tennis in college after a standout career at North Marion. But he was attracted to Southern Oregon, which doesn’t have a varsity men’s tennis team, for its criminal-justice program.

Carroll stays active in tennis through his university’s club team, which has roughly 20 members. They practice two or three times each week and compete in a variety of tournaments.

Carroll isn’t sure he’ll be able to return to New York as a ballperson for next year’s U.S. Open because he expects to have an internship through his college.

But if he can make it work, he’ll try.

“It would be worth it,” he said. ”By that time, I’ll be missing it.”

 *** 

MUSINGS OF A BALLPERSON

A snapshot of Jeff Carroll’s recent experience at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, as seen through his Twitter account:

Aug. 17, 4:41 a.m.: Off to New York City for 3 weeks!

Aug. 19, 3:15 a.m.: New Yorkers don’t sleep at night. They sleep in between subway stops. Most the people riding this subway have their eyes closed

Aug. 22, 3:54 p.m.: So hard to see how bad an athlete wants to win and they end up losing

Aug. 23, 4:46 p.m.: Get towel, run to player, run back to set towel down, run back to player, squat/pick up balls, run back to my spot. This on repeat for 2 hrs

Aug. 28, 12:51 p.m.: Just got done drying off our court with towels and it starts raining again

Aug. 29, 6:02 p.m.: Got to see James Blake’s last match of his career. The crowd went crazy for him

Aug. 30, 7:32 a.m.: Getting to be a ballperson for (Mikhail Youzhny, Jelena Jankovic and Philipp Kohlschreiber) yesterday was pretty good. Excited to see who I get today

Aug. 30, 4:47 p.m.: Got a high five from Andy Murray!!

Sept. 1, 7:11 a.m.: 79 degrees, 76% humidity right now. Can’t wait to get back to Oregon weather

Sept. 1, 11:03 a.m.: Going from adults to juniors is kinda funny cuz they’re not use to having ballpersons so they don’t know how to control us

Sept. 1, 11:04 a.m.: I was a ballperson for this girl who wouldn’t point at her towel, she would just stare at it. Luckily I can read minds

Sept. 3, 1:47 p.m.: I go on Grandstand at 6! Biggest stadium court I’ve ever gotten! Already nervous

Sept. 6, 5:05 p.m.: You can feel the excitement dying everyday. Even though it’s almost the finals, its not the same without matches playing on every court

Sept. 8, 2:44 p.m.: Can’t believe I’m about to be on court with the number 1 and 2 players in the world for both the men and women

Sept. 9, 11:01 a.m.: Just ate at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs!




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