Tech Students Take the Court at US Open


Andrew Ong, USTA

Oralie Joseph-Gabriel (left) working during the Men’s Final of the US Open between Daniil Medvedev (right) and Novak Djokovic, Sunday, Sep. 12, 2021 in Flushing, NY.

At Brooklyn Tech, we may not have a tennis prodigy like 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who can make it to Arthur Ashe Stadium with her tennis skills alone, but Tech students have found other paths to Ashe.
This summer, Oralie Joseph-Gabriel ‘22 and Shaw Kuwai-Yue ‘22 worked as ballpersons for the 2021 U.S. Open tournament. In front of thousands of spectators, they chased down tennis balls, shielded big-name players from the sun, and handed sweat rags to the players upon request.
Despite the seemingly difficult nature of the job, Kuwai-Yue noted that it was not too strenuous as long as he paid attention to the action and followed directions from his supervisors and the players.
According to Joseph-Gabriel, the qualifying week of the tournament was the hardest part and a major adjustment.
“The first week is where you make the mistakes, because you can’t make them in the main draw,” she said. “It’s where you learn how to do things right. You eventually start to adjust.”
The process of being hired for such a job is highly selective—according to the U.S. Open, over 500 people tried out for about 130 spots to be a ballperson for the 2019 tournament.
“It’s about the experience,” Joseph-Gabriel said, “having the best seats on the court. You may be focused on the balls, but you get to see all these beautiful points being played. You get to see just why they’re professionals. People pay $4,000 for seats, and I’m right there on the court—getting paid to be right there on the court.”
Impressively, Joseph-Gabriel was also selected to work the Men’s Final in Arthur Ashe Stadium, in which Daniil Medvedev defeated world number one Novak Djokovic in straight sets. That victory marked Medvedev’s first career major tournament win and prevented Djokovic from winning the first male calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.
“Being a ballperson is about speed, knowledge of the game, and concentration. To be a good ballperson, you can’t have just one or two of these traits; you need all three,” said Joseph-Gabriel. In her mind, her commitment and determination were what made her supervisors see that she had what it took to be a great ballperson, and were the main determining factors in her selection for the Men’s Final.
In such important moments in the tournament, it would seem that the pressure might get to the ballpersons.
However, Kuwai-Yue recalled, “there wasn’t much pressure being a ballboy except, maybe, my first time on the court and also my first time on Ashe.” And with good reason—Ashe is the largest tennis stadium in the world, with a capacity of over 23,000 spectators.
For Joseph-Gabriel, there was a lot of pressure because of the potentially historic nature of the championship match. In fact, before going onto the court, her supervisors instructed the ballpersons to immediately retrieve the match-point ball in the event of Djokovic’s victory and give it to them for it to be displayed in the Tennis Hall of Fame.
However, she said she was more excited than nervous, reflecting, “The atmosphere in Ashe that night was off the charts; it was loud, it was echoing. I felt like I was part of the experience. I knew that [my supervisors] chose me because of my skill and what I’d shown them throughout the tournament, which is why I knew I had to go out there and do what I’d been doing—and do it 100 times better than I’d been doing it.”