Behind the ball boy

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The world stops and watches in awe of greats like Serena Williams and Daniil Medvedev as they expertly slam little, green felt balls. This past summer, seniors Justin Chen, Jung Tzen Liew, Rachel Zhang, Abinav Garg, and Nile Johnson witnessed these tennis legends up close while working as ball boys for the US Open. 

The annual US Open Tennis Championship takes place in late August to early September. It is held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, one of the world’s largest public tennis stadium complexes in Flushing Meadows Corona. Living in Queens, Justin and Jung took full advantage of this opportunity and became ball boys for the event. 

As an experienced player and member of the THHS boys tennis team, Justin said applying for this job was a “no brainer.” This past championship was his fourth year as a ball person. “Having that seniority allowed me to supervise other Townsend Harris students who were rookie ball people,” he said. On the other hand, Jung, a member of Townsend’s boys bowling and handball teams, simply “wanted to find a job that was fun but made quick money” to fund his senior year. “But in the end, I actually fell in love with the job and how exciting it can get along with all the perks,” said Jung. Sophomore Fay Wong admitted that she applied because she would get “the best seats in the house by working at the US Open.”

Regardless of the motive, they all can agree that it was an experience to remember. Even three years later, Justin vividly describes an interaction with Stan Wawrinka during the 2016 US Open in which Wawrinka asked for Justin’s name while giving him a towel. “Every subsequent point he thanked me personally and before he won his match he nodded at me and closed it out. Hearing ‘Thank you so much Justin’ and ‘You read my mind Justin’ come out of his mouth made all the pain of standing for hours in uncomfortable shoes worth it.” 

Fay was a ballperson for Denis Shapovalov, saying it was “the highlight of my entire experience and see[ing] a bunch of players like Madison Keys, Simona Halep, Ash Barty, and Marin Cilic walking around before their matches.” Jung recalled, “One of the coolest experiences was Roger Federer greeting me after passing him in the hallway, in addition to catching Serena Williams’s serve on the same day.”

The job came with even more perks, including a “full set of uniforms sponsored by Polo Ralph Lauren” and “$30 of spending money on a meal card to eat all the delicious food,” added Jung.

To anyone interested in becoming a ball person next summer, Jung advises, “the qualifications just consist of basic hand-eye coordination to catch, throw and roll a tennis ball, a good reaction time, good stamina, and the ability to correct yourself from mistakes if any are to occur.” Take it from Justin, who has returned to this job time and time again, being a “ballperson gives you more access to players than anyone could ever wish for” and according to Jung, “a unique summer experience without the common setting of a normal summer job.”

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