Behind the Viral Star: US Open Ball Girl
Did you see the video of the ball girl who grabbed a flying plastic bag at the US Open during the Caroline Wozniacki-Sara Errani quarterfinal match? Of course you did. By now, everyone from your mom to your high school history teacher has probably sent it to you or posted the clip on Facebook. But who exactly is the star behind the viral video?
We decided to find out.
Meet Jemila Brady, a 20-year-old communications major at St. John's who is working as a ball person at the US Open for the eighth straight year. The Brooklyn native has enjoyed a lifelong love of tennis and even briefly played for Division I Saint Peter's University before transferring. And, it turns out, Tuesday's epic bag grab isn't even her first -- or second -- brush with Internet fame.
We caught up with Brady in between matches on Thursday at Flushing Meadows.
espnW: Is this the first time you've been involved with a viral clip?
Brady: Interestingly, no, it's not. Maybe two or three years ago, I was on ESPN for a one-handed catch. And then last year, this one wasn't as great, I got hit in the face when I was working on Louis [Armstrong Stadium].
espnW: What was going through your head as you went to grab the bag?
Brady: It seemed like it was an instant thing on TV, but I actually saw the bag before the players did. I saw it coming down and was like, 'Go backwards, go backwards!' And then I realized it was going toward the net. So once Errani said 'Hold on,' I just took off running. The wind was going so fast, it went above the court pretty quickly, but I was just able to catch up to it.
espnW: At what point did you realize the moment was being shared on social media? Did you know during the match?
Brady: I had no idea! When I got off the court and I got back to the locker room, everyone was texting me that they had just seen me on TV and asking what had happened. I was like, 'Oh? The plastic bag?' I didn't even realize what it was for. I think it's a great honor to go viral, but at the end of the day, I was just doing my job. I just wanted to get the bag off the court.
espnW: How many texts and calls were waiting for you on your phone?
Brady: When I went to the locker room, I had about seven or so. And by the end of the night, it was probably around 15. By the next day, it was probably around 30. I had a lot of comments on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, too.
espnW: Did Caroline Wozniacki or Sara Errani say anything to you about it?
Brady: No, they didn't. Because it was the last match, they didn't really get the chance to since we have to leave the court right away. But a number of security guards and umpires were like 'That's so awesome!' And walking out that night, everyone was trying to high-five and take my picture! I'm kind of the only ball person that looks like me here, so I'm easy to recognize.
espnW: Have you actually watched the clip?
Brady: I did. I watched it at work yesterday. I had a 9 o'clock class in the morning, but I had a chance when I was at work after. People tagged me in it on Facebook, so I thought I should watch it. I don't actually see myself making the catch, all I could see was that long breath I took when I got to the other side!
espnW: What's the coolest thing you've had happen since you made the catch?
Brady: A lot of my friends at work aren't tennis players or fans, but they do occasionally watch the Open to see if they can catch me on TV. Around 2:30 yesterday, one of my co-workers ran into the room with her laptop and yelled, 'Oh my god, Jemila is famous! I saw this on Facebook!'
espnW: How does this rank in terms of amazing things that have happened to you, both at the Open and in general?
Brady: At the Open, this is probably around No. 4 for me. There have been so many awesome things that have happened to me here. This is probably a top-20 moment in my life, though. I've been able to do a lot of cool things away from tennis.
espnW: Three moments have been better for you at the Open? What are they?
Brady: Over the years, catching men's serves during a match has been pretty awesome. I've caught a few from guys with big serves, like Robin Soderling and John Isner. Those have been pretty epic moments.
espnW: What are your hopes for the rest of this year's US Open?
Brady: Just to have fun! So many of us come back every year; we come back because we're like a family. We wait all year to see each other for these three weeks. Getting to see so many awesome matches and getting to hang out and see each other is pretty great. I'm hoping to get one of the final matches.