- Danielle Rossingh

Four Roland-Garros ball kids have traveled to cental China as part of an exchange program

Ballkids Louis Anceau, Paul Besse, Gaelle Mangin, Camille Galloy, and Alexandre Gardon at the Wuhan Open 2018

Four Roland-Garros ball kids have traveled to cental China as part of an exchange program with the Wuhan Open.

Rolandgarros.com reports on their experiences at the tournament in the Chinese hometown of 2011 French Open champion Li Na.

A special relationship with France

“It’s a different culture,” Louis Anceau, a 16-year-old from Compiegne, told Rolandgarros.com in the tournament's huge press conference room. “The Chinese are very welcoming and sympathetic, I really like it.”

The four French teenagers were picked to go to Wuhan after a strict selection process, based on their on-court performances during this year’s Roland-Garros. In return, four Chinese ball kids travel to Paris each year to work at the French Open.

Some 650 French citizens live in Wuhan, the biggest expat group in this sprawling city of 11 million at the confluence of the mighty Yangtze and Han rivers in Hubei province, central China.

The city has had a special relationship with France for decades, according to Francois de Grailly, the French Consul General to Wuhan.

“France has the biggest investment in Wuhan’s automotive factories, with Peugeot and Renault,” De Grailly told Rolandgarros.com, shortly after meeting the four ball kids at the Wuhan Open.  

Ballkids Louis Anceau, Paul Besse, Gaelle Mangin, Camille Galloy, and Alexandre Gardon at the Wuhan Open 2018
“The city is so big and vast”


For example, French car maker Peugeot Citroen has a joint venture with Chinese car brand Dongfeng Motor, which sponsors the Wuhan Open.

The ball kid exchange programme between the French Open and Wuhan, which is organised by the WTA, “is good for young children, to better understand each other,” said De Grailly.

Wuhan, best-known for its automotive and high-tech industries, is transforming itself into an economic powerhouse and mega-city cluster of 30 million people by 2025.



Its slogan “Wuhan. Different every day” isn’t just a slogan, it is a fact: cranes and vast building sites can be seen everywhere you look.

For the four ball kids, it took some getting used to.

“The city is so big and vast,” said Paul Besse, 15, from Bordeaux. “There are so many buildings,” added Camille Galloy, 15, from Paris.

“This is my first time in Asia,” said Gaelle Mangin, 14, from Angers. “It is so different from Europe and France, the culture, the construction sites, everything is huge.”

Ballkids Louis Anceau, Paul Besse, Gaelle Mangin, Camille Galloy, and Alexandre Gardon at the Wuhan Open 2018
A slightly different ball distribution


Although the conditions weren’t easy in the first few days of the Wuhan Open, with temperatures rising to as high as 31 degrees Celsius combined with high humidity and pollution, they were well prepared.

“We drank lots of water beforehand, so it was OK,” said Louis.

Apart from overcoming the cultural differences and sweltering temperatures, they have also had to adept to a slightly different ball distribution and throwing technique while working on the Wuhan courts with the likes of two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova and reigning Roland-Garros champion Simona Halep. 

With the French teenagers not speaking much Chinese, while the Chinese ball kids don’t speak a lot of English, some stuff got lost in translation.

“The communication is sometimes a little bit difficult, but we manage,” said Louis. “But we have a nice connection with them when we are in the locker room, we play games.”