The Tennis Servants


How would you like the “honor” of retrieving and catching Nadal’s sweaty towels?  Tennis writer Stephen Tignor thinks it is time to release ball kids from their servitude.

“No Sweat”

In his “Parting Shot” in the March/April issue of Tennis Magazine, Tignor says, “It has evolved, or devolved, to the point where players walk on court, plant themselves in a chair and demand all manner of accoutrements – bananas, water battles, ice packs, restrung racquets, new shoes – that the ball persons nearby feel duty-bound to deliver to them.”

He continues, “At this point, it’s an unwritten rule that the ball persons must do whatever the pros tell them. The most obvious – and gross – example is towel-fetching… The kid, or sometimes adult, is obliged to pick up the player’s sweaty towel, convey it to him immediately – and then, after the player has made it even sweatier, have it flung back in his or her face.”

Too Demanding?

This entitlement was further abused when Fernando Verdasco publicly berated a ball boy when he didn’t deliver his towel fast enough to suit the Spaniard.  Or the many top players who regularly growl “Towel!” when they walk back (stall) after losing a point.

Tignor suggests that officials can/should hand out code violations whenever a player disrespects a ball kid; and make it policy that the player goes to get their own towel (which will surely decrease the number of times they actually towel off).

If the players can carry their own bags on and off the court, they can fetch their own towels.

What do you think?

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14 thoughts on “The Tennis Servants

  1. Here, here!
    I cringe to watch this unsanitary and demeaning practice. Arthur Ashe died of AIDS.

  2. I think the situation is way out of hand. The ball kids should at least have surgical gloves on if they continue to have to handle sweaty towels, etc.

  3. I think most professional athletes are spoiled brats. I say make them fend for themselves like all of us do. We put them on a pedestal and they become entitled. At the very least, make them treat EVERYONE with the respect all people deserve!

  4. My opinion is this is not a respect issue. This is simply the fact is not one professional tennis player would ever think of toweling off with their opponents towel. They don’t want to touch these sweaty things. But they “demand “ the ball kids get theirs. It has become a normal practice over time and should end.

  5. Have been a ball-boy for years at the Savannah Challenger – and a very good one. 🙂 Several friends commented that they would never consider doing something so demeaning. Having worked plenty of “demeaning” jobs before completing dental school, it never really crossed my mind. I just approached it as I had every other job I’ve ever had – do the job well. It was *so* cool, to me, to get to be on the courts with these guys, that being “subservient” was well worth it. Maybe I had a little grin on my face whilst holding an umbrella over one of them, but, by golly, I held it at just the right angle so that every inch of them was in the shade. 🙂 A few of the ladies had the officials address their having to take towels that had clearly been involved with snot. I would choose simply not to think about it. But, the three second rule could run out to ten minutes, for me, and wouldn’t faze me.

    Interestingly, James Blake and Michael Russell were the two players that said “thank you” each time you sent them a ball. 🙂

  6. I agree that the towel thing…is over the top….mostly used to buy time between missed shots!

    However….if that service would be provided to ME…at my community.. I am SURE I would be for it!

  7. John McEnroe, while commentating a match, once said, “These guys towel off in one game more than I did in my entire career”. It is ridiculous.

    I suspect that many of the tennis players who are subscribers to this blog reside, at least “in season” in Florida. We know all about dealing with sweat while playing matches! How often do we go to the towel? In the most hot, humid, sweaty conditions I hang a towel on the fence and use it when I absolutely need to dry off my hand, arm, face. Obviously some people sweat more than others. Nadal is literally dripping every match he plays, no matter the conditions. Should he towel off before resuming play? Sure, why not as long as he does it within the time limit. But does he, or any pro, need a servant to serve up the towel? No! At the NextGen Finals, there were no ball boy towel servants. When players chose to towel off they went to a box in the back of the court where they had placed their towels. Guess what? They toweled off MUCH less than what has become the norm. I say keep the ball persons but towels shouldn’t be their responsibility.

    p.s…If a player tossed his sweat band or towel or shirt at me after a match, I would dodge it. Wanna hand me a racquet, okay I’ll take it.

  8. As with many things, to many,”what once was anticipation ….soon becomes expectation.”

  9. I have never really thought about it but since the ball boys and girls are voluntary its up to them. If I was young again and had the opportunity I would definitely do it. I am 65 and if given the chance would do it. The closer I can get the better. Matter of fact I might still do it. 🙂
    Randy Beerman

  10. Fully agree with banning ball people from doing the dirty work. I’m surprised no-one has mentioned the other heinous crime of the players being given up to 5 balls to pick from, and throwing 3 back. How much extra work and time does that use up?

  11. Let the free market take on this situation/problem. Have a negotiated price for towel fetching – pay the ball persons a fair rate for this task. I would rather do the towel thing than cleaning out bathroom stalls in a public restroom or many other dirty jobs.

    Demand that they say thank you each time for this task.

  12. First, is there a health hazard? If so, eliminate the practice.
    Second, are ball boys paid? If not, pay them a legal wage! Are ball boys represented in a union? If not, form a ball boys’ union. (Ball boys might try a class action suit to see if the practice of exploiting unpaid ball boys has been legal.)
    Pay ball boys according to the services they provide over and above the standard service of getting the ball, (what else are they expected to do?). Let ball boys state what services they are willing to do; and let players record what service(s) over standard ones, they are willing to pay for.

    Stand up for ball-boy rights! (And courteous treatment is expected in a civil society, and both ball-boys and players are accountable for behavior in the work-place.)

    Dear Anonymous, Power to the little people! george

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