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Wimbledon ball boys and girls have described their role as “a great honour” and said many are hoping to share a court with breakout British teenager Emma Raducanu.
The youngsters, known as BBGs, find out which court they will be tending two hours before play, and many see 19-year-old Raducanu as “an inspiration” because she is the same age as the oldest BBG.
This year around 1,500 applicants were whittled down by organisers to form the elite squad of 278 BBGs, ranging in age from 13 to 19.
Nadine Gainsburgh, 15, described tenth seed Raducanu as “an inspiration” particularly because “she’s close to our age”.
Asked how she would feel working on a Raducanu match, Nadine told the PA news agency: “I’d be so happy – so excited.
“I’d keep under control and know what I’m doing but afterwards I’d definitely tell everyone I know.”
Thomas Cheatle, 14, agreed his favourite player is Raducanu because “she’s got a great future ahead of her” and he would feel “calm and collected but very excited and happy” to field one of her games.
The pupil, from Southborough High School in south-west London, said being a ball boy was “a great honour” which he had been training for every week since September.
It comes after play was paused on Monday when a ball boy fell ill, and he was revived by Percy Pig sweets handed to him by British player Jodie Burrage.
Nadine, a pupil at Holy Cross School in New Malden, south-west London, joked that she was “jealous” when her colleague was given the pink sweets by Britain’s number five.
Asked how they deal with the pressure of fielding for world-class players and being watched by millions on television, the youngsters said rigorous weekly training sessions prepare them to handle it.
Nadine said: “You just have to know you’ve trained and if you aren’t on court then you wouldn’t be good enough so you just have to have faith in yourself.”
Sarah Goldson, who has been directing BBG training for 10 years, said she can “never be absolutely certain how they’re going to handle the pressure” but confirmed that the faint ball boy from Burrage’s game was “fine” and had returned to duty a few hours later.
She said the main change in training BBGs over the last decade is that they are now taught techniques to lessen their impact on the grass, which is particularly important this year as the tournament will not be pausing on the middle Sunday for the first time.
Ms Goldson, who is also a PE teacher, told PA: “You can see on the Centre Court we’re not actually standing on the surface on the back of the court.
“As the play is extended on the middle Sunday, the more we move around on the grass the more it’s affecting the surface, so we look to make the minimal impact on the court as we can do.
“That’s probably the main thing that has changed.
“We emphasise very much anybody dragging their feet, or when they’re rolling they should be able to roll from almost standing, because the more you move forward, the more you track back, the more you’re tearing up the surface.”
BBGs are drawn from around 30 schools close to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in SW19.
Rolling (quickly distributing balls across the court), feeding (throwing balls to players) and receiving (collecting balls) alongside the ability to stand still for long periods are key BBG skills.