NEW YORK—It was the ball that ended it all. Behind the baseline and with her Grand Slam bid behind the 8-ball, Serena Williams slid to her left and hit a backhand slice toward 43rd-ranked Roberta Vinci. The optic yellow sphere crossed onto Vinci’s side of the court, bounced once, then artfully caromed off the Italian’s racquet. It crossed back onto Williams’ side, bounced twice, and right there, history had been both made and denied.
In terms of prize money, keeping that ball between the lines was worth an additional $795,000 to the Vinci’s U.S. Open payout. When you consider that, the ball’s $1,500 sticker price seems like a relative bargain.
“If Serena won? It was $750,” says Barry Meisel, President and COO of The MeiGray Group.
Throughout the U.S. Open, The Meigray Group has been selling match-used tennis balls mere moments after they were hit by the payers themselves. Unidentified balls are available for as low as $10, but balls tied to a specific match are available at a wide range of prices—with Vinci’s winning volley ball setting the bar for this year’s supply.
“We get them within 45 seconds to two minutes after the match in a chain of custody, from the chair umpire,” Meisel says. “To get them ready we authenticate them—anywhere from eight to 20 minutes.”
Roughly “12 to 36” balls are made available from any given match. A ball from Novak Djokovic’s routine first-round win over Joao Souza was available for $49.99, while a ball from Donald Young’s comeback third-round win over Viktor Troicki fetched $29.99. That was the same price being asked for a ball from Vinci’s quarterfinal win over Kristina Mladenovic. Two fans were eyeing one of those souvenirs, just a few steps away from the $1,500 ball, as Meisel was explaining the authentication process.
“The chair umpire has the ball back, when match point is won. The ball boys know to identify it; it goes directly into a Ziploc bag,” Meisel says. “I must witness it—I’m embedded on the court.”
About two hours after Vinci’s victory, the match-point ball was still available for sale.