Ball boys and girls are an iconic feature of professional tennis. Fun fact; as a kid, actor Michael Caine served as a ball boy at Wimbledon and used to use this fact to impress the ladies! We all love their floppy hats and the smiles of those lucky few who get photos taken of themselves with the two players. We respect them and their ability to put-up with volatile athletes and their sweaty towels. And we all wince in pain with them when they cop a ball to the face.
But what do we think of ball boys and girls being replaced by the seemingly natural choice for a role that requires running around after tennis balls — dogs? When you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. Tennis matches are pretty much giant games of fetch, and the dogs wouldn’t even need to return the ball… they could just run off with it (which, let’s face it, they usually do) as long as the ball is, in the end, removed from the court!
I’m not even asking hypothetically. This has honestly just been done — and in a very sweet and charitable way at that. Stay dogs from Brazil were adopted and trained to be, well, ball dogs and have just had their debut at the Brazil Open!
Four dogs named Frida, Isabelle, Costela and Mel were rescued from animal shelers in Sao Paolo and took part in an exhibition match between the Portugese, Gastao Elias and Spaniard, Carballes Baena. And they were a huge hit! Apparently they were adored by not only the fans, but also by the players (and I’m not really surprised)!
Trainer Andrea Beckert, from the Association of Animal Wellbeing, explained that exercise was designed to demonstrate that rescue animals can be adopted and trained, in a bid to increase adoption of these poor, little, stray darlings.
One thing though; imagine if a ball hit one of the pups? Or even, more mildly, watching a player throw a sweaty towel at one! Personally, I flinch at the thought. It just goes to show how much we should appreciate the more human ball cuties and their stoicism in the face of all that is, literally, thrown at them.