ATP's use of towel racks can prevent ballkids from mistreatment
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine visited me at my home. At the time, my TV was on and a tennis match was playing on it. He was not quite familiar with international tennis and it rankled him to no end that little ball kids were made to run around constantly by the players concerned after every point played – to fetch their towels so that they could wipe off sweat from their body!
I informed him that that’s the way it is in international tennis. At the highest level, tennis players need to focus on their game and need not be bothered with the ‘extra’ and ‘unnecessary’ bits such as getting the towel themselves. It also saves time so that the players get to play more during a certain time span and the viewers both on court-side and at home watching live broadcast, get to see more tennis.
I also told him that this need not be seen as any sort of forced activity. Most of these children are budding tennis players, and would learn a lot from being out there with the top tennis players. They would surely learn a lot while helping out tennis pros and this could actually inspire them to become professional tennis players themselves.
After all, Roger Federer himself used to be a ball kid at the Basel Open. But the optics, especially for the uninitiated, was too bad and naturally, my friend was not convinced.
I have been made to revisit that incident since then a few times, thanks to some unfortunate events in the recent times. At 2017 Wimbledon Championships, Adrian Manarrino bumped into a ball kid and then shocked everyone by stating that the players and not the ball kids should be given priority in case something like that happens!
At the Shenzhen Open this year, Fernando Verdasco shouted at a ball kid for a slight delay in handing him the towel, bringing the poor ball kid almost to tears. The incident drew wide condemnation from the tennis fans and experts alike.
ATP considered relieving the ball kids from the ‘towel duty’. The first such experiment is currently happening in Milan at the Next Gen ATP Finals 2018. Towel racks have been stationed at the side of the court and the players have to fetch their towels themselves. They are not allowed to ask the ball kids to give them towels.
While players like Andrey Rublev have openly stated their support for such a move, it was distressing to see the blue-eyed boy of world tennis – Stefanos Tsitsipas, openly denigrating such a move. He expressed his displeasure by saying that it is the ball kids’ ‘job’ to provide them towels so that they have one thing less to worry about while playing at a such a high level.
To players like Verdasco, Tsitsipas and others of their ilk, it’s time to remind them that ball kids are there to help you and not to serve you. You should, in fact, thank them for helping you out, the way the most gracious tennis player of our times, Dominic Thiem does, all so often. Unfortunately, Thiem is an exception to that rule, and hence, the need for ATP to consider having towel racks at court-side for players to fetch the towels themselves.