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Queens athletes take swing at being US Open ballpersons

As the US Open tennis tournament nears, the U.S. Tennis Association is whittling down the ballperson field for the high-profile event. The first round of tryouts was held last month and callback tryouts were completed last Thursday afternoon.

About a dozen teenagers spent that afternoon chasing balls across the court while USTA officials graded their hustle.

The USTA generally employs around 230 ballpersons for the tournament, although many return from the previous year. This year about 80 lucky candidates will be picked to shag stray tennis balls from the court, but only 50 will likely make it past the qualification matches. Letters will arrive at their doorsteps in two weeks.

Many of the ballperson hopefuls were from Queens — including one whose teenage years were far behind him. Rego Park resident Ronnie Gozon, 31, is trying out for a ballboy spot 12 years after the first time he did it.

“It’s tough, especially when you get to that age,” he said. “It’s been a while, man.”

An ironworker by trade, Gozon said part of the reason he tried out again was because he had been laid off from work.

“You just gotta keep busy,” he said.

Gozon’s chances are better than zero, said Cathie Delaney, assistant ballperson director for the USTA. She said she favors speed, agility and a knowledge of tennis over simple youthfulness, noting she has accepted ballpersons from ages 14 to 65.

“He’s actually pretty good,” she said of the 65-year-old senior citizen.

Knowledge of tennis is helpful, but not necessary, Delaney said.

“I’ve taken a lot of baseball players who have great arms,” she said.

Other Queens hopefuls are hoping to learn from some of their idols in the flesh.

Sarah Ekhles, 15, of Bayside, is looking forward to being on the same court as some of the tennis greats.

“You can learn great technique from them,” she said.

Sarah, who has been playing tennis all her life, said it was her first time trying out.

“It looks easy, but it’s not, really,” she said. “On the court, you get really nervous.”

Forest Hills resident Dayana Agasieva, 15, is trying out for her second time.

“I think I did great,” she said, noting she has been a spectator at US Open practice sessions. She is looking forward to being a part of the tournament. “I’ve been playing for eight years,” she said. “This is my life. I just love being here.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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