Everything you need to know about Madrid Open's model ball girls and ball boys controversy

Madrid Open has used models in crop tops and mini skirts in place of regular ball kids in shorts and t-shirts.
Madrid Open has used models in crop tops and mini skirts in place of regular ball kids in shorts and t-shirts.

For the first time ever, the Madrid Open Masters 1000 tournament this year has been stretched over two weeks. And while that hasn't gone down well with all the players, the bigger controversy is the tournament's decision to use models in crop tops and mini skirts in place of regular ball kids in shorts and t-shirts.

The model ball girls have been seen only when the men have played on the center court of the La Caja Magica Stadium - Manolo Santana. This has sparked a huge debate in the tennis world, with the majority of fans criticizing the tournament organizers.

Spain's Secretary of State for Equality Soledad Murillo has also slammed the decision, saying that the introduction of models “contributes to fomenting clear discrimination towards women who appear as simple objects of decoration and amusement."


When were model ball girls introduced at the Madrid Open?

2004 Madrid Masters
2004 Madrid Masters

The Madrid Open, which is also known for its experiment with the infamous blue clay in 2012, replaced the Masters 1000 event in Stuttgart back in 2002. But the tournament was played on the indoor hardcourts of the Madrid Arena in October before it was shifted to the claycourts of the La Caja Magica Stadium in May 2009.

Rafael Nadal is the most successful champion in Madrid, having won the title five times.

Former Romanian player and business tycoon Ion Tiriac, who earlier owned the rights to the tournament, introduced models aged between 19 and 28 in the third (2004) edition of the tournament.

The models were recruited from numerous agencies in Spain, and sported Hugo Boss clothes. Male models were also introduced in 2006.

US-based international sports agency IMG took over the running of the Madrid Open from Tiriac in 2021.

A TikTok user, who goes by '@itslizasworld' and has worked as a ball kid at the Wimbledon Championships in the past, was among the first ones to notice models at the ongoing Madrid Open. She promptly raised the issue on social media.

Several fans have accused the organizers in the Spanish capital of objectifying women to attract more views and increase TRPs.


Players' comments on model ball girls at Madrid Open

Former World No. 1 Andre Agassi lost to Russia's Marat Safin in the semifinals of the 2004 Madrid Masters. When asked about the model ball girls after the match, the American first joked that he was distracted and then stated that he didn't think it was necessary for tennis.

“It was difficult, to say the least, to concentrate on the ball. But I suppose I had an advantage, I’m used to playing with my wife [Steffi Graf]. I need some time to let it absorb. It’s important for our sport to understand its product clearly but I’m not quite convinced it’s part of our product.”

Safin defeated Argentine David Nalbandian in the final in 2004. Asked what he thought about the models, Safin said:

“The models mean people are still talking about tennis. Good publicity, bad publicity. It doesn’t matter.”

When Rennae Stubbs learned about the models this year, she called it a "ridiculous" step.

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