As Jimmy Ye looked up at the TD Garden jumbotron, he couldn't believe it was his own face staring back down at him. It was like a dream. When he looked away from the screen and saw Andre Agassi staring at him across the net it didn’t get any more believable.
Ye was just a ball boy at the Garden for a Champions Cup on Oct. 2 before four-time Grand Slam champion Jim Courier handed him a racquet and told him to face Agassi. Courier needed to break Agassi’s serve and the 16-year-old from Charlestown was his best chance.
“When [Courier] gave me cue to come over there, I was shocked,” Ye said. “I remember every point. I was so nervous.”
After a first point that Ye called a “giveaway” by the former world No. 1, Agassi decided to turn up the dial. He didn’t know what was coming next.
Agassi fired in a hard serve but Ye was ready. Despite shanking the return off the top of his racquet, Ye managed to get it over. Agassi then tried to fire a backhand winner down the line, but Ye managed to get his racquet on it, floating a lob over a stunned Agassi.
“After that,” Ye said with a chuckle, “he was serious.”
Word traveled quickly about the exploits of the Boston Latin Academy junior. Ye knows he’ll never be allowed to forget it – not that he’d want to.
“That night I had so many posts on my Facebook page,” Ye said.
Tennis helped Ye settle in the States
For Ye, tennis has been much more than a memorable moment against Agassi. After moving to the country at the in 2001 at the age of six, tennis helped Ye adjust to the culture of the United States.
“I had trouble communicating with people,” Ye said. “This was a great way for me to pick up English and to learn about American culture.”
Ye picked up tennis at age nine when he moved to Charlestown. Relatives in South Boston took in Ye and his family until they were able to move to the New Towne Development off of Medford Street in 2004. At his new home, Ye was just steps away from the . With a little prodding, Ye was soon out on the court learning the game he loves.
“I was lazy,” Ye said of his early days in Charlestown. “I was always home watching TV and there was a tennis court next to me, so my mom made me come out and play some tennis.”
The Stillman Center has been Ye’s home away from home ever since.
“Right after school, I was here,” Ye said of the center. “Even when I was sick, I tried to get here, but they wouldn’t let me because I’d get them in trouble. This place is like home to me.”
Charlestown Against Drugs Inc. runs programs at Stillman to bring residents from age four through adults out to play tennis. During the winter, they put up a heated bubble over the three courts so that the programs can continue even in the temperamental Boston winter.
“Having the bubble here has been great, not only for my tennis, but it’s kind of a social activity for me," Ye said. “I wasn’t able to pick up on English when I first came here, so coming here to be able to be having fun and be able to communicate with all these guys is the best couple years I’ve had.”
What's next for Ye?
Despite his early issues picking up on the language, Ye is now enrolled in Advanced Placement English as a junior in high school. Even so, he considers himself far better at physics.
“I like problems,” Ye said. “I imagine things in my head and I love solving them. It’s one of those things where if I can’t find the answer, I have this will to just find it. It drives me nuts.”
Problem-solving skills from the classroom parallel Ye’s play on the tennis court. Considering himself a counter-puncher, Ye takes what the opponent gives him and figures out a way to use it to beat them. When it doesn’t work out, the same will and desire comes out. With a loss comes a need to figure out what went wrong and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again next time.
A two-star recruit according to tennisrecruiting.net, Ye has been the top singles player at Latin Academy since his Freshman year. Ye normally plays in two tournaments a month, recently making it to the semi-finals of a tournament in Rocky Hill, Conn. on the weekend of Oct. 15. He now ranks among the top 15 players in the state of Massachusetts.
Ye hopes that tennis will help take him onto the tennis team at Tufts University, where he looks to study towards a degree in engineering.
Even after college, Ye knows he’ll never be able to look past all that tennis has brought him.
“I love tennis,” Ye said. “It’s just one of those things I will never quit.”