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Inside the mind of a U.S. Open ballperson

A 17-year veteran shares his most inspiring memories

I’ve been lucky enough to step on the court with tennis greats for the past 17 years. Being a U.S. Open ballperson is a seasonal side hustle that only a select few can boast. My good fortune is in part thanks to the fact that I was raised in Bayside, Queens, about 20 minutes from the USTA National Tennis Center where the U.S. Open is held—and where I’ve played tennis since I was eight years old.

For young local players, becoming a ballperson at the age of 14 is a rite of passage of sorts. Tryouts happen every year in June during which about 400 people take a shot at 80 opening positions. Once you get in, though, you’re generally in for life (or as long as you wish) so long as you keep doing a good job and showing that you want to be there.

Now, at 30 years old, I still feel a sense of pride putting on my uniform and seeing the U.S. Open patch on my sleeve. I not only represent the USTA but also my country as this is America's Grand Slam and people from all over the world come to watch the top athletes compete. When you can say that you pretty much have the best “seat” in the house, you get to experience things that no ticketholder can ever claim. It takes seven matches to win the U.S. Open so here are seven unforgettable introspects culled from the past 17 years.

Jonathan Perkins is a senior designer at Equinox in New York City.

2001

As a skinny 14-year-old, I felt frightened going on court for the first time with players, who looked like giants, blasting serves at over 120 mph.

2006

Maria Sharapova gave me a high five and said "great job" to me after she won the title. There she was with the trophy in her hand and I was standing next to her, in awe.

2008

I was on the court for the Men’s Final with a packed stadium of over 20,000 fans. The champion, Roger Federer (over Andy Murray), dropped to his knees and the stadium started shaking because of the cheering. I got goosebumps feeling the energy of the crowd and thought to myself “this is the coolest thing in the world.” 

2012

It’s the last match of Andy Roddick’s career and I’m on the court. He goes to “hang up his rackets” and I saw him, along with his entire family, in tears. It’s surreal to see a top athlete who has never showed signs of a weakness just completely lose it.

2013

It felt cool having friends text and call me saying they saw me in People magazine. The photo was snapped while I was on court during the celebrity exhibition match in which Rainn Wilson and Jason Biggs played with Monica Seles and Chris Evert.

2016

It was exhilarating getting to high-five Stan Wawrinka after he won a grueling late-night five-setter. All the ballpeople lined up to cheer outside the ballperson lounge (which is under one of the stadiums and all of the players must pass by it to enter and exit the court).

2017

While a ballperson is meant to be invisible, the mental side of the job is more draining than the physical side. All players have little idiosyncrasies and you have to be fully aware of them; you’ll notice their facial expressions change if you break their rhythm. (Rafael Nadal, for example, always has to make sure the condensation marks from his water bottles line up exactly each time he puts them down on the ground. Maria Sharapova will only go to one “side” to get a ball before serving.) Seventeen years later, I still get nervous walking out onto the court, looking up and seeing over 20,000 people surrounding me.