Billie Jean King was chatting courtside with a few friends during the Freedoms' tryouts for ball boys and ball girls Wednesday afternoon when 8-year-old Tauheed Browning Jr. caught her eye.
Browning, who barely comes up to King's waist, was volleying with Freedoms head coach Pascal Collard when King stopped her conversation and turned to watch.
"Go, go, go," King cheered with each of Browning's returns.
When a high-lofting hit landed behind Collard, which he playfully did not return, King let out a cheer, holding a fist high in the air.
Everyone was a kid again at Parkside Evans Playground, where the Freedoms held one of several tryouts for their forthcoming World TeamTennis season. Nearly 30 boys and girls gathered for about an hour for the chance to retrieve balls and get a glimpse of Venus Williams, John McEnroe, and other stars on the WTT circuit.
King still grimaces when she remembers her time as a ball girl growing up in Long Beach, Calif.
"Oh, my God, I was so nervous," King said, letting out a little scream recalling how hard it was to stand still.
When she was 12, King said, she was the ball girl for an exhibition match between Beverly Baker Fleitz and Doris Hart. Unexpectedly, the two pros invited King to play doubles with them when their match was over.
Collard also had a big smile on his face when he recalled his ball-boy days. As a 12-year-old growing up in Brussels, Belgium, Collard was a ball boy at one of the biggest professional tournaments in Europe: the Belgium Indoor Championships. There, he raced around the court for McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
During the tryouts, Freedoms coaches volleyed while another used a microphone to offer instruction and constructive criticism, often with a humorous touch. Typical of WTT, music blared in the background. Some of the kids seemed more interested than others. Some came on recommendations of their coaches, which was the case with Browning.
The afternoon wasn't all fun and games. King and Collard made it clear this was a serious job.
"I look at their throwing ability and their focus ability, because you've got to be able to concentrate on the score of the match and adapt all the time and just pay attention," King said.
The selection of about 20 ball boys and girls will be made before the season.
Evert to pay a visit. Chris Evert, subbing for Lindsay Davenport, will play for the St. Louis Aces against the Freedoms on July 12.