Add this guy to the list of our favorite things about the Open. 35 years young, Jorge Cabrera (pronounced George and tweeting from @USOpenBalPerson) was in his element on Monday. The pleasant and very open ball person is in his 22nd year of service to the US Open.
TM: When did it all begin?
JC: I grew up in Elmhurst. I loved tennis as a kid and I wanted to get on the Court. I now live in East Rockaway.
TM: So, you’ve worked how many Opens?
JC: 22. Wait, I lied. 20. In 2005, I got married. In 2006, my son, Jayden, was born. Those were the only events that kept me away from here.
TM: Are you the senior ball person at the Open?
JC: There a couple of more senior people, but they don’t really go out on court anymore.
TM: Do you know many of the other ball persons?
JC: It’s like a family that gets together for two weeks a year and catches up. It’s fun to see everybody again every year. I mean, where else can you be on Court as close to the players as anyone without being expected to play?
TM: It must get hot down there. What was the hottest US Open for you?
JC: Definitely last year. The first week was not only hot but very humid, too. It made for some long days.
TM: And the wettest matches?
JC: Last year and the year before. They even had to play the Wheelchair finals indoors.
TM: What matches really stand out for you?
JC: Two finals. Graf and Seles in ’93. And the last final in ’96 on Armstrong, between Sampras and Chang. They were great. And the Lendl/Sampras ’90 Quarterfinal and the Becker/Agassi ’90 Semifinal.
The thing that really stands out for me is how the court doubled in size for us over the course of one year, after we moved into Ashe. And going to two large show courts instead of one. It’s fun to see the grounds change year after year.
TM: How do you do your job, with all the tennis going on around you?
JC: Andre Agassi is my all-time favorite. I got called in to Center Court to work the ’90 Semifinal. There’s my favorite player and I’m covering him for balls and towels. I was excited, but I had to block it out. At the end of the day, it’s still a job, and you have to do the job. We’re responsible to make sure there are no hiccups in the rhythm of the game. We should be invisible. I mean, other than the players, we’re the only ones running on the court.
TM: So, what’s it like down there?
JC: Amazing. People who watch tennis on television tell me that it looks like the players are hitting the ball so hard. I tell them that the balls are hit even harder when you’re standing on the court.
TM: Are there any players who treat ball persons exceptionally?
JC: Definitely. They’re all good to us, but Roddick, Isner, Federer and Wozniacki have very cool temperaments. Of all time, Agassi, Edberg, Chang and Federer are the best.
TM: Do you think your experience is different from the other majors?
JC: Well, the Open is the only slam that ball persons actually throw balls to the players instead of rolling them.
TM: Do you have to try out every year?
JC: No. Once you’re in, you’re in. I do help evaluate the rookies and the young kids. We lose some every year when they go off to college, since the Open is right around the time that school starts. And we develop the new ball persons to give them a chance to work bigger matches. It can be overwhelming if you’ve been on Court 4 all week and then you get moved to Ashe with 25,000 people looking at you.
TM: Do you ever get a chance to evaluate your own play? Do you have a highlight reel?
JC: In the early days, I never got to see myself on court. Now, with technology, I’ll find out that I am working a match about a half-hour before it starts and call home and DVR it. The fun part is that Tennis Channel will run classic matches sometimes and I’ll see myself working the match. It’s fun knowing that I was a small part of US Open history.
TM: They even pay you for all of this fun?
JC: Yes, but I don’t do it for the money. I love the game and it is a cool job.
TM: How do you pay the bills for the other 50 weeks of the year?
JC: I work for Fendi managing their product line for a couple of stores in New York.
TM: In all of your years, there must be a blooper you remember.
JC: Yeah. In ’98, Chang was on Ashe. I was at the net. He hit the net with his first serve, and I ran out to retrieve the ball. I must have been running ahead of myself, because I tripped and fell into the cyclops machine. But I did manage to hold onto the ball. I remembered Chang looking back at me to make sure I was OK. After the match, I definitely heard about it from the other ball persons and even some of the players.
Thanks a lot, Jorge. We enjoyed seeing you in action with fans wondering why our camera was trained on the ball person the whole time. You’re an asset to the US Open and the incredible fan experience it has become over your time in its service.