Top 10: When the ball boys get involved...

Jun 3, 2014, 12:00:00 AM

Top 10: When the ball boys get involved...
The buzz of the first week of Roland Garros is the "little buffet" improvised by Djokovic and a ball boy. The kind of moment that the public craves. So for the greediest, the Mag We Are Tennis offers you ten others.

While the second week of Roland Garros is about to start, what should we remember of the first one? A lot of rain, the elimination of Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round or the last happening of Novak Djokovic: an improvised "buffet" on a bench of the Philippe Chatrier court with a ball boy? The kind of moments that the public craves. For the sweeter teeth, here are ten other stories between sunstrokes and former soldiers.


1/ « No, no, don’t disqualify him! »


At the Henmans, Wimbledon is a family affair: his grandfather and his great-grandfather played the tournament, so did his mother in the junior category. As for his maternal great-grandmother, Mary Stowell-Brown, she was the first woman to have served over the shoulder at Wimbledon. No wonder that the son, Tim, also entered the history of the competition, in a much less glorious way... In 1995, the Brit, only 20 years old, became the first tennis player from the Open era to be dismissed from the prestigious London tournament. His fault? During the 4th set of a doubles match against Henrik Holm and Jeff Tarango, he caught a winning return and took it out on a ball that went straight into the head of a young ball girl, Caroline Hall. The latter remembers: « I wasn't feeling that bad, and besides, I was 16 at the time, an age when you don't want to lose face. I sat down and they put an ice pack on my face. Nobody asked for my opinion, but I was screaming: ‘No, no, don’t disqualify him!’» Too late.



2/ « I want to be left alone! »


Every year at the U.S. Open, some 250 ball boys are handpicked to wear the towels of the best tennis players on the planet. But is it really luck? At Flushing Meadows, serving Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal is a job like any other, paid at an hourly rate of $7.75. "I don't want people to think of me as someone different I just want to take my money and be left alone" said to the Daily News Ryan McIntosh, 23, ball boy - and whether he likes it or not - unlike any other. Former soldier in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, in 2010 he was the victim of a landmine that forced the doctors to amputate his right leg just below the knee. Two years after, McIntosh had the same flexible prosthesis than Disability sport sprinters in track and field and became one of the best ball boy of the American tournament. « What was difficult was to convince the organizers, he remembers. But I told them that if I was able to throw a grenade, I could very well throw a tennis ball. »



3/ « I hope people will stop confusing me with James Blake. »


"This is the kind of game that doesn't trifle with love." These words are Jim Courier's, and evoke emphatically one of the most beautiful ballads in the history of tennis: the famous quarter-finals of the Australian Open 2003 opposing Andy Roddick to Younes El Aynaoui. While the score was 19 games all in the fifth set, the American let his racquet to a ball boy. It was almost midnight. After serving fourteen times to stay in the match, Roddick needed a break. "It was my turn to serve - I was very focused - and at the time to throw the ball, said El Aynaoui, I saw him sit down and give his racquet to a ball boy. So I turned around and did the same thing. The ball boys then played one or two balls for fun, it lasted three or four minutes and he made the break on this game. I never thought that he did it knowingly." The moment was surreal. The joke turned into mass hysteria. The audience was thrilled. Unfortunately for the Moroccan, this skit ended two games later with a victory of his opponent (21-19) No regrets? "No, I think that it's the best memory of my career, he says. At least now, I hope people will stop confusing me with James Blake."



4/ Nandrolone, Titanic and depression


If on the courts side, Greg Rusedski is known for his great serve, on the love side, the Canadian is also into tennis. He's indeed known for having met his wife in 1991 on a court. A player? No, ball girl then aged 15 - he was 18 - named Lucy. When, in 2004, Rusedski tested positive for nandrolone at the Indianapolis tournament, who was by his side? « I had a six-month depression but Lucy was there for me. I wouldn't have been able to survive without her. She was my rock, he explained in The Independent. The day I received the phone call telling me this terrible news, we were, me and Lucy on the couch of a hotel room in Cairo watching Titanic... The ship had not sank yet, thank God!»


5/ « If I love – and I don’t know why – the ball boy… »


Drugs, casino, colourful outfits and bleached blond hair: Andre Agassi will remain in history as a legend of tennis for his record but also for the image he built, full of superstitions. Among his little quirks, he always had to make sure that the ball boys were at their place before serving. Even if it meant doing the traffic cop. A bad habit picked up by Janko Tipsarevic: « During a match, if I don't like - and I don't know why - the ball boy, I won't be able to accept a single ball from him. And this until the end of the game, he confessed last year. Even if I take a warning because I wait too long, I always ask for him or her to pass the ball to someone else, and it’s this other ball boy that will give me the ball...  It happens like that, and I can't do anything about it. I can't control it.»


6/ Short skirts, models and other babes


Each spring, and for 10 years now, it's the same parade: the Executive Committee of the Madrid's tournament welcomes around thirty models as ball girls. The goal? Create a buzz. Compared to the wise and diffident Wimbledon ball girls, recruited at a school competition, their Spanish counterparts and their generous curves give a very different impression in their tight little skirts and tank tops. While some feminist associations and some Spanish MPs have spoken out against the "sexist and frivolous" nature of such an initiative, in 2004, Andre Agassi proved to be sceptical for another reason: « It’s difficult, if not more, to remain focused on the ball with all those pretty girls. But I guess I have an advantage - I'm used to playing with my wife (Steffi Graf, ed.) The problem is their skirts. They are too long to perform physical actions. It would be better for everyone if they were shorter.»



7/ « The ball boy who jumps and fucks up my point, how unlikely! »


« Nothing is served by running; one must leave at the right time».  If this quote from French poet Jean de la Fontaine, the Tortoise and the Hare, traumatized many students, one of them seems to have passed between the drops of soporific literature courses at school. A young ball boy at Roland Garros, who in 2011, had the good idea to get on the court at the exact moment when Viktor Troicki hit an overhead at the edge of the net, without realizing that the rally wasn't finished. A successful overhead, of course, but the umpire, applying the rules to the letter, had to call-off the point. To the dismay of the Serb who let slip this important match in the favour of Andy Murray. "This incident disturbed me on one or two points, he said. I've never seen that. I've never seen it on TV since I've been watching tennis, never seen it since I've been playing tennis. It’s unbelievable, a ball boy who jumps and fucks up my point, how unlikely!"



8/ Pizza, Federer and 4th place


Each year it's the same ritual: Roger Federer has a pizza party with the ball boys of the Basel's tournament. Native of the city and 5 times winner of the competition, the local of the stage has also passed through the "little soldier of tennis" box, as he says. Long before going to the tournaments in the presidential box to watch the exploits of her champion, his mother, Lynette, has also long been amongst the tournament volunteers. «When I was a kid, I was biking here. I was ball boy twice. I started with a qualifier match. The next day I was really sore after standing for such long time” he said in 2012The same year, the Swiss witnessed one of the best reflexes in the history of ball balls. It was at the Australian Open, and Dylan Colaci, 14, didn't know yet that he was about to make more than 18 million views on YouTube...



9/ « I was really scared»


On the Internet, it's almost a game of seven families: the ball boy who was hit by a ball; the ball boy who slipped; the ball boy to whom a player left his racket for a few minutes... All these videos have been viewed thousands of times and they all make us smile. In a more tragic way, during the 2004 edition of the U.S. Open a 13-year-old ball boy collapsed in the middle of one of his races during a match between Jiri Novak and Radek Stepanek. The crowd then held its breath. The horror started to grow in the stands. The tension was palpable. Immediately, Jiri Novak went to his rescue. « He was lying there as good as dead, so I ran to his side, he remembers. I took water and a towel, then he woke up after a few minutes and asked me: 'what's my name? Where am I 'I was really scared? I didn't know what to do." More fear than harm: the doctors diagnosed the child with simple sunstroke. Phew.


10/ « You look like my grandfather » 


Who said that the activity of ball boy was reserved to young children or models at the Madrid's tournament? In the U.S., when in the early 2000s, Stan Bretner sold his development company of computer software and left Washington for the Florida sun, a peaceful retirement was awaiting him. Or was it? This crazy grandfather wanted to fulfil his greatest dream: "Being as close as possible from the tennis stars." So at 64, he became the oldest ball boy of the tour. Los Angeles, Miami and BNP Paribas Open, all welcomed him without discrimination. "My grandchildren think I'm crazy, but they love to see me on TV," he told The Independent in 2006. The other ball boys were not very comfortable with me at the beginning. Some thought I was a kind of spy or something like that. Then they saw me at work and quickly accepted me. Sometimes, the players themselves were surprised. Guillermo Coria told me one day at the middle of the match: 'You look like my grandfather.'"


By Victor Le Grand