If you go to the U.S. Open this weekend to watch the championship finals, you might run into a tennis buff whose enthusiasm is contagious. He’s there to guide you and answer your questions. This story is about him.
Dennis Klainberg’s enthusiasm comes across the phone lines. The Manhasset resident and member of the Manhasset High School Class of 1980 is in his element at the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, where he serves as coordinator for General Volunteers. He has volunteered at the tennis complex for about 20 years, he told the Manhasset Press.
One minute he’s exclaiming over an opening day match between obscure players on one of the many courts dispersed around the Flushing site. Another he’s giving directions to one of the multitude of tennis fans flooding the complex. Another time he interrupted the conversation briefly to hand a gift to a child.
Massive sporting events such as the U.S. Open would not work without an army of volunteers to help oil the many gears of the the complicated operations.
When reached by the Press, Klainberg was in the company of tennis enthusiasts from Manhasset and was kept busy by Arthur Ashe Kids Day, comprising what he called “a number of fun-filled and interactive games for everyone and a super carnival-like experience.”
In addition, Klainberg and his charges also “provide historical information about the USTA (United States Tennis Association) and keep the kids busy and having fun and then give them some interest in the game,” he said.
“The other thing that we do, probably more than anything else, is answer general questions. Where’s the bathroom? Where’s the best match? Where’s the Louis Armstrong stadium? Where’s the grandstand?” Klainberg noted.
Tennis has been a lifelong sport for Klainberg. He recalls participating as a youth at the now-shuttered Village Bath Club, part of the Manhasset Country Club. Unlike many who competed in high school, he still plays the court game as he nears 60. His four children with wife Dana—Adam, Emma, Sydney and Jacob, are all grown up and out of the house.
“But when they come back, they can play with me,” Klainberg said. “And so one great thing I did was that I taught them one good lesson, which is how to play tennis. We play all the time. They know they’ll keep me busy for the rest of my life, so that makes me happy. It gives us a common bond.”
Klainberg is not only a member of the USTA, he also donates to the USTA Foundation, the charity arm that, among other things, introduces underserved children to the game and provides equipment and lessons.
“As a volunteer, I get a perk of having special seating in certain spots, such as at Louis Armstrong stadium,” he noted, adding that, over the years, he has seen thousands of matches and they all kind of “converge in my head.”
But one memory that stands out is when he watched Serena Williams against Kim Clijsters in a 2009 semifinal at Armstrong. That was the night the all-time great unleashed a profanity-laced tirade against a line judge.
“I was there. I was very close to [the court]. I don’t remember who won or lost, all I know is she was screaming. It was horrible,” he admitted.
For the record, Serena lost that night.
Another interjection—”Andy Murray’s doing great. Yes. I think he’s about to win his first round match. I’m right outside Court 15 right now,” he said, referring to the former world’s top-ranked player and two-time Grand Slam champ.
By the way, he is “Sir Andrew Barron Murray, Order of the British Empire” to you.
Shouts from fans were heard on the phone line, and, half talking to himself, Klainberg tried to figure out for whom they were cheering.
“That’s what I love about the Open, it’s always in flux, there’s always something going on,” he observed. “They are screaming, but in [the opening] matches they have no idea who they’re watching. I’m in the business and I don’t even know these [players]. But the level of the quality of play is so high. You can go to the most minor of minor matches in the first couple of days and be so close [to the action]. It’s like the best seat in the house, just like being at center court.”
Volunteers don’t get to watch the finals at Arthur Ashe Stadium; they have to pay for the privilege. But Klainberg pays a lot less to watch on a giant screen just outside the main court—the cheers intermingle, he said. He has been inside Arthur Ashe for the championship matches.
“But unless you’re sitting in the best seats, [you’re better off] outside because you get the same television set that you get when you’re up in the nosebleeds—you’re gonna watch the television half the time [when you’re up there] anyway,” he said.
Asked if he was ready to switch to pickleball, the smaller court cousin of tennis, Klainberg laughed and said “I never tried it. And for sure, I will. I’m still a student of [tennis]. I really updated the way I play. I’m playing more modern. And I feel like I’m playing better than I ever did. So I don’t think [I need] to play pickleball at this time.”
Klainberg said one of the perks of his volunteer job is that he gets time off to watch matches.
“But because I’m always wearing my uniform, I’m constantly barraged with questions no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I guess that’s why I love it—I’m always on,” he said.
He concluded, “This is the kind of volunteer situation where you got to love people and love being helpful. If you don’t want to be friendly and upbeat and positive don’t do it. This is the place where people want to be happy and you want to be happy with them.”