Madelyn Dwyer, a 2019 Maranacook High graduate, poses in her uniform she wore while working at the U.S. Open tennis tournament as a member of the ball crew in early September in New York. Contributed photo/Bonnie Dwyer

In the wee hours of Sept. 8 at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, Carlos Alcaraz defeated Jannik Sinner in the latest finish in U.S. Open tennis history. Alcaraz prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3 in a grueling, back-and-forth quarterfinal match that began on the night of Sept. 7 and ended at 2:50 a.m., after 5 hours, 15 minutes.

Manchester native Madelyn Dwyer was there. Not as a spectator with soda and popcorn in each hand, but as a member of the ball crew, right there on the court with an up-close look at history.

Dwyer, a senior at Tufts College in Medford, Massachusetts, was one of 350 attendants at the Open who ran across the court to scoop loose balls or service new ones to the players, including Alcaraz, the eventual champion and currently the top-ranked singles player in the ATP’s world rankings.

“It’s almost like an out-of-body experience,” the 2019 Maranacook Community High School graduate said. “I had been in the stadium the night before, but we sat way at the top, and then the next night, to actually to be on the court — it’s incredible.”

A lifelong tennis fan who counts Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic among her favorite stars growing up, Dwyer heard about the opportunity from a Tufts classmate who had been a ball crew member in the past. (“It was in the middle of finals, so I was actually doing it to procrastinate from studying for my final,” the civil engineering major said with a laugh.) 

Dwyer — the 2019 Kennebec Journal Girls Tennis Player of the Year — applied online and was invited to a tryout in New York City, where she spent 20 minutes sprinting up and down the court and rolling balls to other candidates. 


A week later, she was told she made the team.

“I’ve been playing tennis since I was little, so I knew the game and what the ball people were all about, but I had never done anything like that before,” Dwyer said.

Madelyn Dwyer, a 2019 Maranacook High graduate, works as a member of the ball crew during a U.S. Open tennis tournament match between Renzo Olivo and Zizou Bergs on Aug. 24 in New York. Contributed photo/Bonnie Dwyer

Dwyer worked the four days of qualifying, followed by the 14-day tournament itself, while commuting to and from a hotel about 20 minutes away. While she had a couple off days here and there, there were offers to work on those days if she were available.

“With COVID and all that stuff that’s happening, they just needed more people,” she said.

Not all the history she witnessed was from courtside. Members of the crew were allowed to watch other matches from the stands, and so Dwyer was on hand for Serena Williams’ final match, a third-round 5-7, 7-6, 1-6 loss to Ajla Tomljanovic in a three-hour thriller at Arthur Ashe Stadium, capped by Williams’ emotional post-match interview.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, stated she was stepping away from the game.


“It was so cool,” Dwyer said. “That in itself made the whole tournament worth it. … I feel like when you always watch these people on TV, you almost forget that they’re real people. And then to be sitting next to them, it’s like wow! you actually exist! You’re a real person!”


Watching superstars like Alcaraz and Williams may be fun, but a ball crew member is expected to do plenty of work. According to the U.S. Open’s online guide, a crew member is typically on court for 1 1/2 hours (a mere 3:45 less than Dwyer spent courtside for Alcaraz’ match), most of which is spent sprinting. 

Attendants work from two areas: The net position, where they are responsible for overall management of the court (they’re the ones you see running across the court on TV), and the back position (behind the players), where attendants service the ball to the players and retrieve loose balls.

Crew members also have to know many small-but-crucial things that keep a tennis match moving: Where the balls are, the score, what happens when the server wins or loses a point, as well as when the next ball change happens.   

To add to the pressure, the crew leaders are grading you as fans and media judge the athletes. All while fans are watching world-wide.


“They definitely took it very seriously,” Dwyer said. “They put a lot of work into making sure it looks effortless on the court because yes, we’re there, but technically we really shouldn’t be seen. They wanted to make it look like the balls were coming from nowhere.

“There definitely is a lot of pressure, especially when you’re at a big stadium and know all those people are there. They’re not really watching the ball people, but if you mess up, they’ll see it.”

One of the hardest roles of a crew member seems easy at first glance: Rolling the balls across the court to fellow attendants. The rolls should be fast and low to the ground, Dwyer said. If a roll is bumpy, people will notice. 

Maranacook Community High School’s Madelyn Dwyer hits a ball on the school courts on June 25, 2019. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Crew members must also toss, or service, the ball to the players. Even though they require one bounce, they must be done with pinpoint accuracy: “They’re not going to go and chase after a ball if you don’t toss it toward them,” Dwyer said. 

The U.S. Open site recommends several outside activities to prepare for a crew spot, including bowling, 5- or 10-kilometer races, hand coordination games such as juggling and, of course, being a ball person for family and friends.  

Lou Gingras, who coached Dwyer at Maranacook and has been a line judge at state tournaments, appreciates what his former No. 1 singles player has been able to do.


“It’s a great opportunity and I know she was excited to be selected to go to there,” he said. “She’s been on the court most of her life and has taken lessons at the Augusta Country Club and worked with me at middle school. She put the time in and the effort.”

The stadium courts — like Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium, where the high-profile matches are played — use six attendants. The field courts, which have minimal spectator seating and where qualifying and early-round matches take place, use four.

Dwyer said she hopes to return to New York for next year’s Open. One thing is for certain, though: She’ll never play or watch tennis the same way again.

“There’s a lot of stuff happening, and I had never thought of the game that way,” Dwyer said. “Now, whenever I watch tennis, I’m not watching just the players, I’m watching all eight of them (players and attendants) on the court.”

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