The Queen's Club, London: 10 - 16 June 2013
Ball Girls at the Aegon Championships
The grass courts at the Aegon Championships are regularly heralded as the best in the world, but what about the ball-girls? Year after year they excel and impress, tirelessly chasing tennis balls and making sure the players never have to wait to serve. Nicky Holmes has organised them for more than a decade. Here she gives the low-down on how the girls are selected, how they deal with being 'televised', and their most embarrassing moments.
The girls are all selected from Nonsuch High School for Girls in Cheam and St Philomena’s Catholic High School in Carshalton. Each year 100 girls in total are selected. At the tournament the girls work together on all the courts.
Training starts after school in October and continues on a weekly basis until April when some Saturday morning practices take place and the girls work together. As the year progresses the girls who demonstrate the physical skills and the understanding of the role are selected. The girls are aged between 12 and 15.
We provided our first ball girls in June 1993, so 2012 will be our 20th Tournament! At the start we worked with Margaret Lindsay who had provided ball girls for 20 years. We were shown training methods, which in subsequent years we have developed and refined. We have been responsible for the ball girls at the tournament since 1998 following Margaret’s retirement.
Ball Girls generally rate the tournament week as one of the best weeks of their lives. Many of them return in subsequent years as spectators or to work as stewards so we are often bumping into familiar faces. Despite it being an exhausting week for them they learn so much and have to show qualities such as reliability, punctuality and responsibility as well as the ability to concentrate and deal with unexpected situations. It is an experience that can change their view of the world.
On a normal sunny day, the time spent off court is spent rehydrating, eating and making sure trainers are still white enough to go back on court. The centre court match is always on the television in the ball girl area so they often watch it and check out what the girls are doing on that court. If it rains then there is time to catch up on schoolwork, read books and play card games. As the girls come from different schools there is time to get to know each other better. Sometimes the girls compose a song about the tournament or share their ‘on-court stories’.
The girls know that part of the selection process is the completion of work and good behaviour, so they know to follow the rules!
As any court can effectively be on TV the girls get used to it very quickly. Teenagers shouldn’t be under estimated, they take things in their stride and cope very well given the chance. The girls sit on centre court prior to changing on so that they know exactly what is happening in the match and can analyse the preferences of the players with regard to the towels and balls. This makes it much easier to cope with the pressure when they walk on.
1997 – The Final. Goran Ivanisevic playing Mark Philippoussis. Goran gave his racquet to the ball girl at the baseline. She went on to have a rally with Philippoussis, described on BBC News later that day as the longest rally of the match. At the end of the match the press pack wanted to know everything about the ball girls and TV crews turned up at school the following day.
LTA Summer Grass Court events