Isabel Brick is still a kid, but she’ll be taking a final ball kid bow at the Laver Cup.
The North Vancouver native has served in that key support capacity for four significant tennis events in the Lower Mainland, but at age 16, she’s in final year of eligibility.
Surviving the stress and trial tests to be one of 24 Laver Cup ball kids from a field of 360 applicants aged 12 to 16 is not lost on the North Shore Winter Club competitor. After all, with a star-studded field for the three-day World versus Europe event at Rogers Arena, it might be easy to be overwhelmed and star-struck when competition commences Thursday.
“For sure. Definitely,” Brick said with a laugh Saturday during a final preparation session at the University of B.C. Tennis Centre. “I know I’m going to be awestruck seeing some of these players, but I need to keep my head in the game.”
With lineups featuring Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Ben Shelton, Francisco Cerunodolo and alternates Milos Raonic and Chris Eubanks of Team World — and Holger Rune, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Casper Rudd, Hubert Hurkacz, Gael Monfis of Team Europe — the adrenalin is going to be flowing for fans, competitors and ball kids.
Mistakes might happen.
“I do have the experience but everyone has made mistakes,” acknowledged Brick. “You fumble the ball occasionally, but you just have to keep going and move forward.
“It’s a really cool experience to be up close to amazing professional players. It’s really inspiring for me as a player. And you meet so many like-minded individuals and other players, too. A great overall experience.”
And who might catch her eye on the court?
“All of them, I couldn’t even pick,” she said. “But Canada, so Felix. He’s young and has a big career ahead of him for sure. I’m anxious to see how it goes for him. I play more for fun, but I’m hoping to play more tournaments. It’s a game for life.”
Sierra Roberts is the Laver Cup ball kid manager and her trained eye picks up the most minute details — good or bad.
“You’ve got to remember that the best ball kids are the ones you don’t notice,” said the 24-year-old from Vancouver. “You’re invisible. Every point, you’ve got to check in on everything.
“The hardest thing is staying focused for 40 minutes (before the switch). You have to stand still and there’s a tendency to touch your hair.
“Knowing all the tennis rules and the score and when the ball is switched is why we really need tennis players as ball kids. What we look for are the basics. The speed, can they roll the ball far and have the strength to do it? But one of the biggest things is teamwork.
“We look for non-verbal communication. You have to make eye contact with everybody on your team. You have to make sure you know where all the balls are and be smooth across the board.”
Roberts also knows what awaits ball kids and encourages them to soak up the experience.
“You have the best seat in the house, and at the Laver Cup, you’ll be on that dramatic black court,” she gushed. “Being a ball kid is the one opportunity where you work as a team and have that passion for tennis. A lot of these kids play tournaments against each other and it’s a win or loss. Here, we’re all together as a team.”
There’s also a pecking order in determining who works which matches.
“The most experienced and the fastest are at the net positions,” said Roberts. “Some who are really focused are at the base positions and we rotate them throughout. Tie-break games are the hardest. We might put the most experienced out there because they have the confidence and the serve is always switching.”
Matthew Lee, 14, plays competitively at the Vancouver Lawn Tennis and Badminton Club. Winning one of 24 spots for the Laver Cup feels like a tourney victory.
“It means a lot, this was hard to get,” said Lee, who was a ball kid in April for the Billie Jean King Cup at the Pacific Coliseum. “They are all very good and know what they’re doing. The big thing is going to be avoiding the serves The atmosphere is going to be so noisy and bananas.
“You almost want to stop and watch.”
Especially with a fondness for the way Rublev plays the game.
“I’ve always wanted to see the pace of his forehand and that iconic grunt that he has,” said Lee. “We have four rotations of six ball kids for the four matches a day, so one quarter of time there’s lots of time to watch.
“My parents got me into tennis. I started when I was six. Both of them play and I liked it immediately.”
So, what does the future hold?
“I’m not sure if I want to play college,” said Lee. “I’m going to put it on my resume and just call it a day.” I’m going to keep at it and play at the club level for fun. It’s a great sport.”
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