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The ball boys and girls, in their own words - Part 5: Yoël Fort

By Estelle Couderc   on   Thursday 16 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 Roland-Garros 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 fifth instalment, come the ball boys and girls.

Yoël Fort, walking out with Lucie Safarova at the 2015 women’s final

“A blend of stress and excitement”
“What struck me most was first realising that I was actually with a player, then the moment I stepped out onto Centre Court with her, in front of thousands of people. Beforehand, I was really anxious about what would happen, how I would take her hand… But, of course, I was really happy to do it. I chose Safarova because I’d already collected balls for her a few times in the doubles. I was even on duty when she won the final with Bethanie Mattek-Sands the following day! So, I was really pleased to be able to walk out with her. At the beginning you’re just waiting, then suddenly you get a surge of joy when you see the players arrive. It’s stressful sometimes, too, because you don’t really know how to act. It’s a blend of stress and excitement. And, at the end, when you step out onto the court, you relax and drink it all in!”

“My heart was thumping”
“I’d have liked it to last longer, but I knew that wasn’t possible. I just thought that I was lucky to have been there in the first place! Safarova thanked me for leading her out. I could tell she was really focused on the final, which meant that she didn’t talk much, so I was just happy that she’d said anything to me. I remember feeling delighted. It was the last day, I knew that it would all be over soon, and so I made the most of the atmosphere at that moment. It was awe-inspiring… and a bit scary too. I’ll admit that my heart was thumping! Then I went onto Suzanne-Lenglen Court to watch the final on the giant screen. Most of the other ball kids were really happy for me. Of course, I was rooting for Safarova. Not necessarily because I had held her hand – I think I would have supported her anyway because every time I’d collected balls for her before the final, I’d found her game really nice to watch. She wasn’t far behind Serena Williams in the final, either.”

"My best ever tennis experience”
“My favourite players were Federer and Wozniacki and that hasn’t changed, but the experience was so memorable that Safarova has become a special player to me. It creates a bit of a connection because of this amazing moment, and because people saw me on TV with her, so they ask me about it... What I remember most is the joy of walking out onto the court with her, with the music, that incredible atmosphere, all that applause when we stepped out together. It was a unique experience, one I’ll have only once in my lifetime. I know there won’t be a second! Even today, I can still say that it is my best ever tennis experience.”

S. Williams v. L. Safarova Women's Highlights / Final
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Next Article: The ball boys and girls, in their own words - Part 4: Solène Valy
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