July 13, 2017 15:33 GMT by theguardian.com

Wimbledon ballboys and ballgirls may be trained in players' quirks

Wimbledon ballboys and ballgirls may be trained in players' quirks

The 258 youngsters who service the All England club’s 18 courts could in future get extra tutoring on whims and idiosyncrasies of tennis stars

Wimbledon’s ballboys and ballgirls have been hit with balls, shoulder-barged and battered by fierce sunshine this year, but soon they may also have to do extra training on the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the world’s best players.

Head of training Sarah Goldson, a PE teacher who oversees the group, said the ballboys and ballgirls – known as BBGs by those in the know – must “adapt to the players, their idiosyncrasies, and what they do”.

“We could build that into the training programme, where we just throw something in that’s slightly random, because we’ve seen a few more different things this year,” she said.

“We do say to them that obviously apart from their own safety the player is the priority, so they are there, within reason, to do what the player asks them to do.”

There is already a keen awareness among the highly-trained Wimbledon BBG that the whims and desires of individual players must be respected. On the wall of the BBG office a piece of paper lists all players known to be superstitious and – when known – the particular superstition they harbour.

A significant number of players will ask for the same ball to be given back to them if they have served an ace; the Williams sister take only one ball at a time; Andy Murray wants the towel after every point he plays, while Djokovic will only ask for the towel by reaching his arm behind him.

It will come as little surprise to regular tennis watchers that arguably the most demanding player on the tour is also its most superstitious: Rafa Nadal’s quirks range from his ever-present tug at his shorts, to jumping while at the net during the coin toss.

The list goes on: the bottles of recovery drink and water are lined up meticulously near his chair, during a break Nadal will drink first from one, then the other – always in the same order (“I put the two bottles down at my feet, in front of my chair to my left, one neatly behind the other, diagonally aimed at the court,” he helpfully explained in a Telegraph interview). The conscientious BBG will ensure they are never close enough to Nadal to force him to alter his path – the Spaniard never walks on the lines.

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki is another particularly difficult player for the BBGs. While most players will receive balls from either side of the court, Wozniacki only wants balls from her service side – which means those suppliers must always ensure they have enough balls for her.

Wimbledon BBG training is already famed for being among the most vigorous of any tournament. Each January, more than 800 young people between the age of 14 and 8 from 32 local schools audition for the role. The 258 young people lucky enough to be chosen to aid the players on the 18 courts at the All England club will train for two-and-a-half hours a week for five months.

Each is assigned a role – either as a “centre,” positioned at the net, or a “base”, standing at each end of the court. Discipline is the number one priority. The BBGs must stand absolutely still with their arms straight when feeding the balls, which is different to other major tournaments.

Some have argued that BBGs are treated like lackeys in the modern game. Nadal was criticised by some last week when footage emerged of him giving a ball boy a piece of litter. The boy dutifully took the rubbish and put it in the bin, which was situated next to the sitting player. Goldson said that it was within the BBGs’ job description to take litter from a player, often including the plastic bag from a player’s new racket.

French player Adrian Mannarino said it was a “joke” that he was fined £7,000 in the first week of Wimbledon after colliding into a ballboy.

When he was admonished by the umpire, the 29-year-old said: “What did I do? I was just passing by. We were shoulder to shoulder. It’s a joke. I’m hurting myself just not to hurt (him) and you give me a warning. Ballkids are the priority right? I cannot walk to my chair?”

Goldson said the BBGs were trained to ignore players’ outbursts of temper. “We say to the BBGs they’re just there to do a job. We say with the players, if they lose their tempers it’s not about you personally as long as you’re doing what you’re expected to do.”

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