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Ballperson at top of his game after 25 years

Harry Villareal (c.) stands guard as tennis players Alison Riske (l.) and Melanie Oudin leave the court. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Harry Villareal is in his 25th year as a US Open ballperson after nearly not making it to his second.

The South Ozone Park native, now 38, tried out for the job back in 1989 as a sophomore at Archbishop Molloy High School. He enjoyed it, but said he didn’t love tennis and considered not returning. Ultimately, when he got invited back Villareal decided, what the heck.

“I was like, “All right, I’m just in high school so I’ll just come back,’” he said.

The former Stanners track runner hasn’t missed the US Open since then and is currently the oldest person at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center still working matches on court. He was even dubbed a good luck charm during Roger Federer’s string of four straight titles.

Villareal has worked nine men’s singles finals, including last year’s, and can still be seen chasing tennis balls at the net at some of the event’s biggest matches. His all-time favorite is still his first final in 1994, when a long-haired Andre Agassi beat Michael Stich for his first crown.

“I have a lot of fun just running after the ball, believe it or not,” he said. “Fundamentally that’s what it is.”

The years on the court have taken their toll physically on Villareal, who works at Better Technology Systems in Chappaqua, N.Y. He stopped playing in ultimate frisbee summer leagues to stay in shape.

He wears two knee braces to help him with the running and the kneeling he has to do while working at Arthur Ash Stadium because of television cameras. Villareal will often ice his knees on the drive home to his Wappinger Falls home or to stay with relatives who still live in Queens. “It’s getting more and more difficult,” he said.

That hasn’t stopped him from remaining one of the top ballpeople at the US Open, according to supervisor Gary Spitz. He called Villareal the consummate professional and unflappable on the court because of his experience. Spitz said Villareal is a great example to the younger workers that you have to treat every match with the same importance.

“I wish I had two, three dozen Harrys,” Spitz said.

For Villareal being a ballperson and working with the same people is still an enjoyable experience. No matter how tired he is, he said he still gets an adrenaline rush each time he steps on the court. It is why he doesn’t see his time at the US Open ending anytime soon.

“When I can’t do it physically, that’s probably when I’ll stop,” Villareal said. “I’ll try to keep myself fit. If the knees hold up, I’ll keep doing it.”

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Jerry Loughran from Garden City, Nassau County says:
Someone alerted me to this article about Harry being the oldest ballperson at the US Open. Article is correct about Harry's consumate professional performance year in & year out at the Open but I'm 65 years old and worked w/Harry at this year's Open...I believe you need better fact checking on your reporting...just google my name and ballperson or google oldest ballperson US Open and you'll find a slew of articles about me.
Oct. 22, 2013, 6:06 pm

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