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The ball boys and girls, in their own words - Part 4: Solène Valy

By Estelle Couderc   on   Wednesday 08 November 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 fourth instalment, come the ball boys and girls.

Solène Valy, walking out with Stan Wawrinka at the 2015 men's final

“He asked me loads of questions”
“Originally, I wanted to walk out with Novak Djokovic. We did ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to decide who’d choose first. I lost, and the other ball girl chose Djokovic. So, I got Wawrinka…and in the end I liked him much better! Before we walked out on court, he spoke to me, he asked me loads of questions. He smiled at me, asked me which hand I wanted to give him. I remember that he then took my hand in a different way. He said, ‘This way’s better.’ I didn’t really understand, but it was an extra little exchange, a special moment! Djokovic was really focused. He just jumped a bit, but didn’t say anything. Whereas Wawrinka talked to me, he was really nice. He also asked me what my name was, how old I was, if I was ok, things like that! He seemed relaxed, which I wasn’t expecting at all.”

“Afterwards, we were in tears!”
“Stan Wawrinka was called up by the speaker. We walked forwards, past the other ball kids who were forming a guard of honour, and after that…it was just magical! I was a bit scared of going wrong, stepping forwards at the wrong time. I was a bit apprehensive, but it all went smoothly. There were loads of people clapping. I was emotional, it was pure joy. I was smiling, but none of it was even for me! It was unforgettable! I realised that this kind of thing only happens once in a lifetime. And today, when I think back, I realise that I was very lucky. Once it was all over, we were in tears, we were so emotional. It was such a powerful experience.”

“The ball kid family”
“My favourite player is Nadal. Since he wasn’t there, I didn’t really know who to support in the final. I liked Djokovic because he was kind to the ball kids. Then, in the end, Wawrinka was so great with me that I ended up rooting for him. I still like him today: he’s my second-favourite player, after Nadal. It was an experience that I will never forget. Even more so because I hadn’t collected balls for any of the big-name players over the fortnight. It’s one of my fondest memories. In fact, the whole three weeks were one of the best experiences of my life. It’s very intense because we’re a family, the ball kid family.”

Novak Djokovic and the RG ball boys
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