Ball girls and boys wait for the beginning of their...

Ball girls and boys wait for the beginning of their shift in between the grandstand at the U.S. Open. (Sept. 2, 2010) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

There are a lot of places a college kid from Long Island could be on the last days before summer's big finish, like the beach or on one last warm-weather road trip.

But Matthew Navavian, 19, of Manhasset, Thursday stood on a tennis court in Queens, where the temperature climbed into the 90s before noon.

A love of tennis, and the thrill of being close to the game's best, keeps Navavian coming back to the U.S. Open in Flushing to be a ball person, catering to the on-court needs of tennis professionals competing in the tournament. The United States Tennis Associations draws on local youth to fill about 250 ball person slots, and many hail from Long Island.

"It's probably the most fun job imaginable to me," said Navavian, who attends Northwestern University. "Coming here and seeing this whole experience is great. It's paradise."

This is Navavian's third year as a ball person. His experience has earned him extra responsibility of being crew chief of the six-person team that chases down tennis balls, hands players towels and holds umbrellas over the players during breaks in play.

Thursday, Navavian worked a morning match that featured Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia defeating Kateryna Bondarenko of the Ukraine.

"You see some of the best players in the world," Navavian said.

Daniel Casesa, 33, of Franklin Square, is a ball person supervisor for the U.S. Open. He's started as a ball person in 1992. The years haven't diminished his enthusiasm for chasing down balls. He's worked as a ball person on the last six men's final matches.

"It's a rush," Casesa said. "I don't care how many times you do it, it never gets old."

Casesa said there are about 250 ball persons picked each year, most of which are youngsters returning from previous years. There are tryouts in June and only about 80 to 100 of up to 500 tryouts are picked.

Most are male, and this year the age range goes from 14 up over 60, Casesa said.

Priyanka Badlani, 16, of Cold Spring Harbor, is another 3-year vet. Thursday, she said the highlight of her career has been being on the court in 2009 for the first and second rounds with Juan Martin Potro, who went on to win the men's final last year.

"It was wonderful being right next to him," Badlani said. "It's amazing to be right there, sweating with them."

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