Even though badminton is king in Jakarta, tennis still holds its own in the realm of popular sports, and few in the capital can say that it’s as much a part of their lives as M Yusup AS.
A lifelong Jakartan, Yusup has worked as a ball boy and competed at various levels of tennis over the past 40 years. And although his competitive days are well behind him, Yusup is still devoted to the sport.
He tells us all about the challenges of being a ball boy, why nobody plays tennis at Senayan anymore and why global warming is ruining business.
There aren’t a lot of people out here playing. Do you get much work as a ball boy?
Not only am I a ball boy, I’m also a hitting partner. I also clean up the courts to get them ready for when the players come here.
How has your job changed over the years?
I preferred the way it was in the ’70s and ’80s. Back then, these courts were always full. These days, business is slow. People have courts at their apartments now, so they just play there. That means I have to work longer hours to make enough money. But I’ve worked here all my life and I don’t want to work anywhere else.
How long have you had this job?
Since 1970. I’m 49 now and I’ve been doing this since I was 11.
How much do you make as a ball boy?
Two ball boys usually split Rp 25,000 ($2.65) per game. I can’t give you a daily average though, because when it’s rainy or hot, people only come to play in the morning. If I go home with Rp 30,000, it’s a good day. Food costs Rp 10,000 a day and I spend Rp 12,000 per day to take the MetroMini to and from work, so on days when I don’t make much money, I spend the night with my relatives nearby.
Do you get different sorts of clients now than you did in the ’70s and ’80s?
Yes. We used to get a lot of Japanese players here. I liked them. They were understanding of how hard it was to get by and they tipped very well. Now they don’t come here any more. Most of the players are American or Australian.
Did you prefer the Japanese players to the Western ones?
No, they tip well too. Sometimes they pay me Rp 50,000 an hour. But they come here less often than the Japanese did.
Do Indonesians ever play tennis here?
Not really. They prefer to play at more exclusive places, like apartments or hotels.
What are your work hours like?
There aren’t really any set work hours. I usually get here at 5 a.m., right after I finish my morning prayers. I try to leave for work early to avoid the traffic. During rush hour, it can take half an hour to get here from my home in Kebayoran. Sometimes I stay until closing time at 10 p.m.
When do the players usually start arriving?
The first ones usually show up at six in the morning.
Have you always lived in Jakarta?
Yes, I’m Betawi. I’ve been to other cities in Java, like Bandung and Bogor, but I’m only really comfortable in Jakarta.
Over the years, how has Jakarta changed as a city?
Mostly for the worse. When I was young, the weather wasn’t as hot as it is now and the pollution wasn’t as bad. The economy was good for me until the ’90s. Then living here got much more expensive.
Do you support a family with this job?
Yes. I have a wife, a son and three daughters. My son is 25, but my youngest daughter is two-and-a-half years old. None of them have regular jobs yet, so I’m the only steady source of income. I sometimes take odd jobs when I get offered them, but I won’t look for other work because of my age.
How do you like the court owners here?
I don’t mind them. They let me work here, even though I don’t exactly work for them; I’m freelance. When I tried working at the Pakubuwono Apartments, on the other hand, the owners charged me a fee to work there. I quit that job after one day.
Do you play tennis yourself?
Yes, and I also teach a little. I’ve played since I was about 15. I competed seriously back then and I played with Lita Liem Sugiarto [a prominent tennis player in the ’60s and ’70s] a few times. I just didn’t like having to leave the city to compete so often. I have my own racket and sometimes I play with the other ball boys when we have nothing else to do. We actually have scheduled court time here on Mondays and Thursdays.
How many ball boys work here at Senayan?
About 100. Most of them are only part-timers, though. I’m the only one who’s here all day, every day.
How popular is tennis in Indonesia?
It’s gotten a lot more popular in recent years, since they started putting tennis courts in apartment buildings, but it’s not as big as badminton. Everyone plays badminton here, but only upper-class Indonesians play tennis
Yusup was talking to Iwan Putuhena
Original interview was published in The Jakarta Globe
Picture by Zack Petersen