By Ossian Shine
(Reuters) – Tennis players need to respect ball boys and ball girls, Roger Federer said in the wake of a row following Fernando Verdasco’s rant over a sweaty towel.
Spaniard Verdasco was cast as a villain on social media last week after appearing to berate a ball boy for not bringing his towel quickly enough during a semi-final defeat at the Shenzen Open.
A video of the world number 30 impatiently gesticulating and appearing to rant at the youngster swiftly circulated on social media, leading to a raft of criticism from fans and pundits.
Federer on Tuesday stopped short of criticising Verdasco — acknowledging that nerves can become ragged in competition — but he did stress the need to respect ball kids.
“Sure you always want to respect the ball kids for who they are and the great job that they’re doing,” the Swiss said, adding “but it’s not easy for each and every player to control their emotions exactly.”
Federer, who himself acted as a ball boy in his youth, said he felt most of the young helpers understood the pressure players are under, but that it was vital they enjoyed a good experience at tournaments.
“The ball kids are really important to us because they are also maybe the future of our game,” the Swiss, in Shangahi for the Masters tournament, said.
“I was happy when I left a tennis tournament, I felt like, ‘oh man, it was just all good’,” he said of his time as a ball boy.
“There were no negatives, so you don’t want to have them leave feeling like, oh my god, like I was not appreciated or I was not liked or it was actually a horrible thing, you know?
“So yes, it needs to be taken care of.”
Not so long ago the likes of Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors would fetch their own drinks and take care of themselves at changeovers.
These days modern pampered players plant themselves in a courtside chair and gesture for drinks, ice-packs, bananas, towels, new rackets and anything else they may need.
The tide, though, may be turning.
At next month’s Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan — the season-ending tournament for the best Under-21 male players — players will be instructed to use a towel rack at the end of the court “to remove the onus on ball kids to handle towels”.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)