Every year in its Wimbledon montage, the BBC has a slow motion shot of the ‘ball change’ where the ball boy/girl opens a new can of tennis balls, upturns it, then pours the three balls onto the court and rolls them to another member of the team. It’s a simple yet beautiful movement, part of the theatre of The Championships. And like a Federer forehand or a Venus Williams serve, it’s easy to forget the practice that goes into making things look simple.
At the All England Club’s covered courts, Anne Rundle puts another group of potential ball boys and girls through their paces. In the office, Anne is the sweet lady who runs the ball boy/girl program. On court, she is the drill sergeant whipping into shape another batch of recruits.
Standing at attention, running on the spot, juggling to improve hand-eye co-ordination, marching practice, shuttle runs through cones, long rolling practice and theory exams. This is the unglamorous side to being a ball boy/girl. Once a week for two-and-a-half hours these 13 and 14 year olds are put their paces, learning the ball boy craft. In total 250 kids will be used during the two weeks.
Anne, and her surprisingly large support staff, are constantly assessing the kids, noting down their times and scores. Nothing is left to guesswork.
Anne and I talk while the kids are put through their paces. One girl is practicing her long rolls causing Anne to wince. “If that girl doesn’t start rolling them straight I’m going to have to yell at her myself”.
Barbara Richardson, on the Wimbledon facebook page, says “the thing that makes them stand out above other ball girls/boys is their stance, rather like dancers.” Presentation is something Anne works hard on. “They are the first thing people see, so they set the scene”.
A lot of people, from all over the world, contact Anne wanting to be a ball boy or girl. They may have second thoughts if they had to do the training. Like being a player on the grass at Wimbledon, being a ball boy/girl is a dream for most and, for the few who actually do it, it has been a lot of hard work to get there.