How They Got Here: Billy and Katie Buchbinder

The Buchbinders, both chemistry majors, inherited their dad’s love of tennis, but plan to follow in mom’s footsteps and become dentists. Photos by Matt Furman.
The Buchbinders, both chemistry majors, inherited their dad’s love of tennis, but plan to follow in mom’s footsteps and become dentists. Photos by Matt Furman.

They weren’t forced into playing tennis, but these siblings from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, were certainly (and happily) nudged in that direction. The game has been a huge part of their family life for as long as they can remember; that hasn’t changed in college. Last season, Katie (’17) went 13-6 in singles play, while Billy (’16) went 10-6 in singles and 12-3 in doubles. They’re no slouches in the classroom, either: Katie was a Capital One All-District Academic first-teamer last year, while Billy made Phi Beta Kappa. They took a break from their last season as teammates to tell us what drew them to the game, who’s got the better backhand, and what it’s like rubbing elbows with Derek Jeter.

How did you get started playing tennis?

KB: We both got into it because of our dad. He took it up in college and has always loved playing.

BB: When we were really little, he used to make us play balloon tennis. We’d hit balloons back and forth in the living room.

KB: He’d have us play Ping Pong, too.

BB: One year, when were too little to play on a normal Ping Pong table, Santa put the table on these little bins so we could reach it. Somehow Santa would always leave us Ping Pong stuff in our stockings.

Did you take to tennis pretty quickly?

KB: I liked a lot of different sports back then—gymnastics, swimming, dancing. But as I got older, Billy would always be playing, and watching him made me want to take lessons. Later on, we’d go to tennis camps, like Saddlebrook in Tampa, for family vacations. Saddlebrook is basically a resort and tennis camp—you go for a week or two, play twice a day, do conditioning stuff. It’s pretty intense.

BB: Those camps were the best. They made you really want to get better.

KB: We’d also see a lot of celebrities down there. Billy has a story—

BB: Yeah, one day I was going into the training room to get ice, and I open up the lid to the ice bin, and I hit this tall guy in the elbow. I turned around and it was Derek Jeter. I was freaking out, “I’m so sorry,” and he was like, “It’s no big deal.”

Did you play against each other a lot growing up?

KB: For me, it was probably more with our dad. He wants to hit every day because he loves tennis so much. I’ll hit with Billy occasionally, but we don’t usually play a match.

So how would you break down each other’s games?

KB: I think Billy’s forehand and serve are his strengths. His backhand is more of a weak point: He likes to slice a lot on the backhand. And he likes to be at the net, so he’s a good doubles player.

BB: Katie likes her backhand; she’s probably steadier with that. And she likes to grind you down from the baseline. But she doesn’t like to come to the net so much. It’s like there’s a force field there.

KB: (laughs) We definitely have different strengths.

But still a lot in common, and not only on the court—you’re both chemistry majors and pre-dental.

KB: Our mom is a pediatric dentist, so I always had an interest in it. I would always go to my mom’s office when I was little and “help out.” Our dad is an anesthesiologist, but I knew I’d never want to work in a hospital.

BB: I was always really torn, actually. Even to this day, I think about switching to pre-med. But dentistry is still kind of edging it out.

Do you guys have time for much outside of classes and tennis?

KB: Yeah, I’m in TCNJ’s Alternative Break Club—we raise money, then go to places like New Orleans and build houses. It’s great.

BB: I’ve played piano since fifth grade, but I’ve gotten more interested in music since I’ve been in college. Sophomore year, I picked up guitar, and now I’m hooked. I play pretty much every day, and I’m pretty obsessed with it.

Are there any matches in your college careers that particularly stand out?

KB: My freshman year, I had the longest match I’ve ever played: Three sets, went to a tie-breaker, and I won in, like, four hours and counting. It was a marathon.

BB: I was really sick last year—I had strep and then mono for like two months, and I was out at beginning of the season. When I finally came back, I’d lost like 15 pounds. My first match back, I was doing OK, but toward the end I was just struggling. I had to catch my breath between every point. Well, everyone else finishes, and the team score was four-all, so my match would decide. I’d won the first set, and it was a second-set tie-break, and I knew if I lost, there was no way I could win a third set. I ended up winning, something like 9-7 or 10-8, and everyone on the team ended up running on the court. It felt great.

Looking ahead, do you think you’ll continue playing once you’re out of school?

KB: I don’t know if I would still play in tournaments, but I’ll definitely hit around. And I definitely want to go on tennis vacations again, like we used to. I’d love to get back to some of the places.

BB: When I was little, I really wanted to play professionally, so it’s crazy to think this will be my last year of competitive tennis. I want to continue to compete, so I’m going to try to play in some tournaments. And my kids will be playing at some point, definitely. The game is a big part of my life.

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