Gary Spitz at the 2009 USTA League Mixed National Championships.
© Juan Ocampo/USTA
By Sue Levine, USTA.com
When Gary Spitz hits the court for mixed doubles in USTA Eastern, he has a unique perspective of the game: He’s spent the last three decades on court with the best players in the world, up close and personal, as a ball boy for the US Open.
Spitz, who is competing at the 2009 USTA Mixed Doubles National Championships, got his start as a ball boy, running for the loose balls when his father played tennis. A friend told him he’d be a natural as a ball boy, so he tried out for the US Open back in 1980. Gary made the cut, and he’s been doing it every year since.
Gary has been on the court with the greats: Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and others. Interestingly, his 6.0 team plays out of the West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills N.Y., the former site of the U.S. National Championships.
He says seeing the top-ranked players in action just a few feet away taught him what the game was really about. “When you watch on television, you don’t get any idea how fast these guys are. You don’t get to see how mentally tough they are.”
So who does he think were the toughest mentally? Spitz votes for Bjorg and Evert. Spitz says it’s natural to want to imitate the people you grew up watching play. “You try to emulate them. You get inspired to be great.”
Spitz says he decided to go with a two-handed backhand, after seeing it used so effectively by both Bjorg and Evert. He says younger people who grew up watching Sampras and Federer are working on a one-handed backhand.
This year will be Spitz’s 30th year with the US Open as a ball boy. There is no age limit for ball boys. In fact this year, someone in his 60’s tried out. He was wearing a knee brace, and popping ibuprofen when it was over. Nevertheless, he made the cut.
Spitz is 45 right now. He says when he started out as a ball boy all those years ago he never envisioned he would still be doing it today. But he says he’ll keep going as long as he can. “As long as I’m holding up, I’ll come back.”