Gary Spitz, 36, a deputy Nassau County (N.Y.) attorney, is working his 21st consecutive U.S. Open as a ball boy:
Are you the oldest ball boy out there?
No, we have a podiatrist in his late 40s who closed his practice for three weeks [qualifying round matches are held for a week before the Open] to come out and do this with his son. But they're both rookies.
What do Open officials look for in a ball boy?
For the net position, they look for people with good footwork and good hands. For the back position, you need to have a strong, accurate throwing arm. The court at Arthur Ashe Stadium is about 120 feet from one end to the other, plus the winds swirl. You need a strong arm.
What can go wrong from a ball boy standpoint?
Two terrible things can happen. One is hitting a player with a ball. The second is getting hurt yourself. I've been on court when a ball person hit Martina Navratilova in the face. It was just a throw that got away, but Navratilova was pretty ticked off the rest of the match. There also was a girl doing an Ivan Lendl match who pulled her hamstring and had to be helped off the court. It happened between the first and second serves, so Lendl demanded that he be given a first serve. Another time, a ball person got hit in the groin and sort of staggered off the court.
Are there players the ball staff doesn't want to work for?
Yes. On the men's side, Jeff Tarango. The other day he fired some balls in the direction of the ball boys. I doubt he did it intentionally, but still....
On the women's side, Conchita Martinez. She can be difficult. She always wants the ball [six are used at once] with which she won the previous point, so you have to make sure to give her that one. With Sampras, even though you'll give him brand-new balls, he'll want to see all of them. Agassi likes the ball people to be in the same position they were in when the point started. So if a ball person retrieves a ball and takes up a new position, Agassi will direct that person back to where he or she started. Agassi is like a conductor out there.