July 11, 2024

Open Court


Back to the Future: ballkids to handle towels again

If there was one positive change with the arrival of all the Covid-era protocols, it was that the ballkids would no longer have to handle the gross, sweaty, snot-filled, unhygienic towels used by the players.

Well, that era is over, after the ATP Board decided during its meetings in London that the ballkids would be handling the towels again, effective at their events following the end of Wimbledon.

But despite the bare bones of a confidential email reported this morning on Twitter, Open Court has learned that it’s a far more complex situation than just the ATP players having kittens about the 25-second serve clock finally being enforced.

Since learning of this change over the weekend, Open Court has been digging into it a little and the effects of it go far beyond just some ATP players worrying about going over time.

The first thing is that, with a number of joint ATP-WTA events coming up (D.C., Canada, Cincinnati, to name three), the WTA Tour will basically have to go along with this – whether they like it or not.

The WTA had taken a stand – to keep the status quo – with its players. But we’re told they’re now going to find themselves in a position where their own players will push back. And it will be difficult not to comply.

And with those joint events on the horizon, it would be nearly unworkable not to go along.

It’s hardly the first time the WTA has pretty much had to play along, when the ATP Tour decided something should be so. At the same time, they also reap a lot of benefits (such as increased prize money at the bigger joint events) without having to do a thing.

Ballkids needing retraining

A ballgirl waits after handing a sweaty towel to Diego Schwartzman at the 2018 US Open. The ATP Tour has decided to go back to that unhygienic practice after Wimbledon.

The other aspect that you wouldn’t think of at first glance is that for the last four years, when tournaments were training ballkids, the fetching of the towels has not been a part of the job description.

Now – on extremely short notice – the upcoming tournaments who had already long held tryouts and trainings are having to … retrain their crews. Adding this not insignicant wrinkle to their job description that they’ll need to navigate, while all the while still feeling the intense pressure to get the balls ready for feeding to the players because of the enforcement of the shot clock.

And oh, did we mention that having kids handle those gross player towels is … completely gross?

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Reverting to an unappreciated past

At some tournaments – notably the Next-Gen Finals back in 2018 – there had already been towel racks installed even before the pandemic hit in 2020. The treatment of the ballkids by some players – with no qualms about snappily ordering them to bring the towel between points, in addition to the absolutely gross hygenic issues, had been making waves for years.

But nothing was done about it, even when there was no serve clock to worry about.

But it all came to a head at the Challenger event held in March 2020, on site at Indian Wells the week before the main event.

Already, there were concerns about the coming pandemic (Indian Wells itself ended up being cancelled on the eve of the first day).

And so there were a number of measures put in place, including the fact that the ballkids were not to fetch the player towels.

The players, to various degrees, had trouble getting used to it.

Now, it feels completely normal.

It should be the norm. But now, it no longer is. All that, because the players live in a universe in which 28 seconds between points – even if they’ve served an ace – is not sufficient.

And when you think of how RARE it still is that a player is dinged for a time violation – even with the new “three-second button push” rule – and how few of those few are women, it’s even more astonishing how they’re bending over backwards for the literal exceptions.

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