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Australian Open's top ball kids on duty at Roland-Garros

By Sarah Edworthy   on   Saturday 04 June 2016
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Rebecca Howard and Reagan Hayes, two of the best performing ball kids at the Australian Open, are on duty here at Roland-Garros in the first year of a reciprocal exchange.

An Australian presence on the show courts of Roland-Garros did not end when Sam Stosur lost her semi-final against Garbine Muguruza. Sharp-eyed observers might have noticed an Australian flag emblem on the smart royal-blue polo shirts worn by two of the ball kids operating at this year's French Open.

Stand up and take a bow please, Rebecca Howard, 16, and Reagan Hayes, 15.

The fleet-footed pair from Melbourne are not only well versed in the phrases Salut ma petite balle jaune! (Hello, my little yellow ball) and J'adore comment tu roules! (I like the way you roll), but also progressed on a strictly meritocractic basis to the semi-finals in the 16th arrondissement. On the eve of the finals, Rebecca heard she had also made the cut to work on Court Philippe-Chatrier during the finals.

"Very proud of her!" said Tania Hall, tournament operations coordinator at the Australian Open, who is travelling with the pair.

In the first year of what is set to be a long-standing arrangement between the two Slams, the top performing ball boy and ball girl from the Australian Open's 380-strong pool were invited to join the well-drilled squad at work during the French Open. Rebecca and Reagan were chosen for the reciprocal trip after two members of the Roland-Garros group of ramasseurs de balles travelled Down Under in January.

Meeting them in the Ball Kids HQ under No.1 Court, it was clear they are having a ball - making friends, working up close to the world's best players, being matily recognised as a fellow Aussie by Sam Groth and fulfilling a dream of working for Rafa Nadal on the clay where he is king.

"That was my goal and it happened in the first round on Court Suzanne-Lenglen," enthused Reagan.

Coming from a Slam at which it is perfectly possible to have rain, lightning and heat delays all in one day - remember Melbourne 2014? - the rain delays here have not dampened their spirits or ball-rolling prowess. Nor has the dusty clay surface which "gets everywhere" says Rebecca. "It sticks to my knees and hands, and gets into our shoes. I do a lot of sock washing in the sink at night."

What precisely marks them out as top international performers in the business of recovering and supplying tennis balls?

"We have five grading criteria," explains Tania. "Rolling - which includes a variety of elements such as the ability to keep the ball flat, fast, accurate in delivery and consistent, servicing, communication by hand signals, concentration and nifty, discreet movement about court. They should blend in with the background."

"The golden rule is 'Player First'", adds Reagan. "That means if a player wants a towel then we give them a towel before dealing with the balls."

Never mind the language barrier, tennis is a universal tongue. "Reagan and I are hopeless at French, but we have worked out if we speak slowly and play charades we can act out what we are trying to say," laughed Rebecca. "We do say je ne comprends pas a lot, but we have also learnt to say je veux manger or allez manger! We need fuel!"

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