Michelle Byrne talks to the unsung heroes of the game: the ball boys and girls.
With the best views in the house and the chance to interact with their heroes, being a ballkid is the dream of many a small sports fanatic. This year 150 of the UAE’s finest ball boys and girls will get the chance to fetch at the 2006 Dubai Tennis Championship. Unsurprisingly, after months of training and preparation for the important role, the kids are giddy with giggling excitement, and the nerves have set in too.
‘I’m so scared. I keep thinking what if I drop the balls all over the court, what if I trip over flat on my face, and what if I get hit by a tennis ball,’ one of the youngest ballkids 10-year-old Audrey Noronha says. And who can blame her? Facing a fluffy yellow object flying at more than 100mph head-on is not a task for the faint-hearted.
‘We’ve had broken fingers, but not much more than that,’ says 16-year-old Verun Venkatesh, ‘and that’s only when the ballkids have tried to catch a serve.’ Having risen up the ballkid ladder for the past four years to the enviable position of ‘supervisor’ the 16-year-old, currently studying for his ‘A’ Levels at Dubai College, knows what he’s talking about. ‘There can be some really stroppy pros,’ he continues. ‘Usually the ones no-one has heard of are the worst. Some of the stars are superstitious about playing with balls they have lost points with and some will take the frustration of losing out on us.’
‘If a tennis player shouts at us we just have to be polite. We’re not allowed to shout back,’ adds another 16-year-old Anindita Kannan with a laugh. She has also been helping out at the championship game for four years and lends her comforting support to the young firsttimers. ‘It is so much fun being a ballkid we are all really lucky – seeing the match up close, meeting your tennis heroes and making new friends while we are training,’ she says. ‘All our parents will come along to cheer us on.’
‘It will be an experience we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. And we’ll be on TV too,’ says 13-year-old Dolly Shah with a slightly self-conscious laugh. ‘Ballkids in the past have played some whacky stunts to get on TV,’ adds Verun. ‘One guy pulled up his shorts around his armpits and ran on court waving to the crowd. He won’t be back, though.’