Being a ballboy at Wimbledon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that few will ever have.
Between linesmen, referees, athletes and fans, it’s easy to overlook the vital role that ball boys and ball boys play at Wimbledon.
With the competition underway, Arun Astley, a former ball boy from South West London, has lifted the lid on life in SW19.
He said: “It was good to be involved.
“I look back on this whole experience with very fond memories.”
Astley became involved in ball-boying at his high school, where the PE teacher, a former ball-boy himself, also worked as a coordinator at Wimbledon.
After going through a series of trials at school, he managed to pass the trials at Wimbledon itself and officially became a ballboy at the age of 14.
He explained: “We started training in the winter, twice a week, doing hand-eye coordination, rebounding and ball rolling and awareness testing.
“Then we moved on to more court-oriented activities, learning the rules of tennis and practicing to be a ball boy.
“In your first year, you start the qualifying tournament a week before, to gain experience before the start of the championships.
“Then on the first day of the tournament proper, you come in with all the boys and girls from the coach, you’re named as a team, and then you play the ball from day one.”
Playing ball at four championships, Astley got to see another side to many of the famous faces we see on our televisions.
He said: “The most famous person I’ve known is either Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray – Andy Murray was very nice.
“Given his reputation you might not think he would be, but he was very polite – you get some who are just plain rude.
“Nick Kyrgios was also very nice and very funny – he will engage with you and ask how you are doing.
“He was pretty new at the time too.”
Of course, England’s flagship tennis tournament isn’t just famous for hosting the world’s most famous tennis players, it’s also home to an array of celebrity fans.
Astley added: “Once we were on one of the back courts, I think it was court 17, and Drake walked past.
“He winked at the guy I was with and we both looked at each other in disbelief.
“I saw Bradley Cooper walk once too and when you’re on center court you can always see a few famous people in the royal box, like David Beckham.”
Although the work of ball boys and girls may seem simple, it is actually a much more complicated and organized discipline than you might think.
Astley explained that they are split into teams of six on the court.
There are two centers at the net who dictate the placement of the balls all over the field and a base in each corner who sends the balls to the players.
Each ball boy or ball girl is assigned a role, and Astley outlined the attributes that drive that decision.
He said: “Centres are mainly the most agile and quick people because they need to be able to move quickly on the pitch – I was a centre.
“With the basics, most of the time it has to do with the height, because the centers are often on the hands and knees, which is quite uncomfortable if you are taller.
“There’s also an emphasis on looking more professional with the taller boys and girls sticking to the back.”
With their positions assigned, the teams of ballboys and ballboys at Wimbledon then wait to hear which matches they will be working on.
As you would expect, throughout the championships, the most successful teams are awarded the most publicized matches and vice versa.
Astley added: “When you are on the pitch you have staff marking you and giving you a score.
“The show courts are going to get the most attention, so obviously they want the best boys and girls on those courts.”
Playing ball at Wimbledon is clearly an experience Astley will continue to remember fondly and it’s easy to see why.
Featured image credit: Carine06 via Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0