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The ball boys and girls, in their own words – Part 1: Lou Heriteau

By Estelle Couderc   on   Friday 29 September 2017
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Year after year, hundreds of young people apply to become ball boys and girls at the French Open, putting themselves through an arduous selection process that involves some tough training and ball-throwing, agility and running tests. For those who make the grade, the French Open fortnight is a subtle blend of stress and passion, an amazing adventure in which they walk the very same clay as the game’s greatest players. For a fortunate few, the experience ends with them walking hand in hand with one of the finalists in front of a capacity 15,000 crowd at the Philippe-Chatrier, a moment of intimacy and the perfect end to magical tournament, every detail of which they will remember for many, many years to come. So here, in their own words and in a first instalment, come the ball boys and girls.

Lou Heriteau, walking out with Rafael Nadal at the 2013 final

“The greatest day of my life”
“I don’t exactly know why they picked me over so many others. The staff only told me on the Sunday morning. When they called me into the office, I couldn’t work out why they wanted to see me. I was fretting to begin with and I said to myself: “Damn, I must have done something stupid. Why do they want to see me?” And then they told me. I couldn’t believe it. I said to myself that it was impossible. I was so, so happy because I realised straightaway that it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. As soon as I left the office I burst into tears. I called my parents to tell them. It felt as if it was the greatest day of my life, and I still feel that way.”

Nadal said: “Merci beaucoup, mademoiselle.”
To begin with, they just told us that we’d be escorting one of the players on to the court. We didn’t know who yet. David and Arthur, who were in charge, said we should play a little game if we couldn’t decide. But Candice and I just looked at each other. She said to me: ‘Tell me who you really want.’ I said ‘Nadal’ and she said: ‘Bah! I’ll give him to you.’ And that’s how we did it. It was a huge thing for me. At the time he was right in the middle of his glorious run of victories at Roland-Garros. And Nadal is Nadal, especially on clay. He wasn’t my absolute favourite player, but he is one of the best players in the world, so it was huge. Then we had to get ready and look presentable, with our hair just right. All the logos had to be properly visible too. Then the players arrived. They were super focused, right in the zone. Rafa was carrying his bag on the wrong shoulder, on the side where I had to hold his hand. He looked at me, smiled and switched his bag to the other side. Then he finally took me by the hand and we walked out on to the court. When we got there, he said to me, in French: “Merci beaucoup mademoiselle.” 

“I felt like I was walking up to collect the trophy with him.”
“What with one thing and another, it was really very exciting: being with the player, the screaming crowd and us being there to escort him. It was a joyful occasion. It’s weird to say I was there. That was the most amazing thing about it – more than the crowd, more than the cameras. I felt so small alongside the player, who apart from being tall was a giant of tennis. It was a unique experience. I really felt as if I was close to him, almost as if I was walking up to get the trophy with him. I really wanted him to win too, so I could tell myself that I’d escorted him to victory and not defeat. It was a wonderful moment. Roland-Garros is an unbelievable experience, an adventure that I’d recommend to everyone. And when on top of it all you’re lucky enough to escort one of the finalists on the last day, well that’s just the icing on the cake.”

Novak Djokovic and the 2015 French Open ballkids
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