Fashion models are replacing traditional ball boys and girls at the Tennis Masters Series in Madrid. Madrid organisers have done a good job of spicing up the men’s Masters tournament in recent years.
But unlike other tennis championships around the world, in Madrid the tennis stars come second.
Here it is the model ballgirls – all clad in pink and blue outfits emblazoned with Hugo Boss – who draw the crowds.
Despite drawing the ire of Spanish government officials, equality groups and even American hero Andre Agassi, the marketing stunt looks set to stay.
Not that this year’s testosterone-fuelled male tennis stars seemed to mind.
Top seed Tim Henman joined a chorus of players who can’t see what the fuss is about as a feminist Spanish politician goes to war against leggy models serving as ball girls at the Madrid Tennis Masters. “It’s all getting a bit serious, isn’t it?” said the Briton, whose wife is expecting their second baby, after being told that Spain’s secretary of state for equality, Soledad Murillo, has called for the tradition-busting experiment to be halted. “They are fomenting a clear discriminatory vision,” the female minister stormed in the local press, calling it a “sexual use of the image of women”.
“The models are doing a job and are being paid for it – around 1,200 euros. It’s the fruit of a sponsorship deal.”
Second seed Andre Agassi also gave his tentative seal of approval to the publicity attracting one-off, limited to night showcase matches. But he hasn’t had the chance to personally experience the phenomenon as his match was played during the day. “I think it’s something different, isn’t it? They certainly look good from where I’ve been sitting,” said Agassi.
The girls, all professional models in their late teens and early 20s, have been working at the Rockodromo to public appreciation.
Agassi added: “It was difficult, to say the least, to concentrate on the ball. But I suppose I had an advantage. I’m used to playing with my wife.”
With their long slit skirts, it’s the bending over which seems to pose the biggest problem as ball girls tend to be outfitted in shorts. “The skirts look like they’re a little difficult to run in – I think they need to be shorter maybe,” joked Agassi.
Spain’s Albert Costa, who fell to Henman today, said there was no issue. “I haven’t been influenced at all. In my opinion, they’re doing well. I think we’re talking too much about it, too much gossip. The goal of this new idea is to offer a show, but I don’t think it’s sexist.
But the girls are the ones to answer this question, how they feel. That’s up to them.”
One ballboy was reported to have aired a more economical than social complaint: “They give us a sandwich and the girls get a wage,” he said in sports paper Marca.
Back to the tennis…
I was really looking forward to yet another titanic struggle between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but things weren’t destined to go that way. First of all Federer succumbed to Andy Murray, without too much drama or fuss – perhaps his mind was also on Hugo’s girls?
Nadal seemed set for a comfortable victory as he quickly racked up the first set 6-3, and was cruising in the second against an apparantly exhausted Frenchman Gille Simon. But I remember the shot that changed Simon’s belief – one of many blistering forehands straight down the line, and from that point on he knew that he was actually in this match. He out-Nadal’ed Nadal – matching the long, patient rallies that Nadal normally uses to wear down his opponents. Nadal for once seemed to be the one being worn down, and making more mistakes, while Simon waited for his chance, before pouncing with the ferocity of a cat to blast a straight, flat forehand down the line.
When Simon was broken to trail 4-2 in the final set, it seemed all over. He looked visibly broken, and against a player with the credentials of Nadal, it seemed a mountain too high to climb. But climb it he did – he broke back immediately, and took the match into a tie-breaker. Once again he quickly fell behind in the tie-breaker, and again it looked all over. But incredibly, yet again he fought back to lead 5-3, and this time he didn’t let go. Nadal seemed the more worn-out player, ragged and making more mistakes than he’d normally make in a year. He was gracious in defeat, and had a smile for the likeable Frenchman who had played some scintilating, “Federesque” tennis to beat the world’s number one player.
Simon seemd pleased with this major achievement, but barely managed a walk around the court before practically collapsing in his chair. It would have been no surprise to see him wheeled of the track. One only hopes he has something left in the tank for tomorrow’s final against Britain’s Andy Murray.