Over the past couple of years, the men’s Madrid Masters has used female models as ballgirls. The gimmick has dragged in big crowds and media interest. So the organisers of this week’s season-ending WTA Championships in the same city went ahead and hired a bunch of Spanish male models to roll the balls between ends, as it were.

So, let’s think about this. Hmmm, gorgeous female tennis stars, red-blooded Spanish hunks … what could go wrong?

Russian world number eight Elena Dementieva was onto the problem as early as Sunday’s practice session, saying the ballboys appeared to be having problems keeping their mind on the job.

“We were practising and I don’t think they really know what they have to do on the court because they are too busy watching the players,” she told Reuters. “We’ll have to see if it will work out or not but I think it will be a distraction for them to do their job.”

Most frightening for the catwalk ballboys was not the prospect of being yelled at by organisers for hitting on players but the reality of life once the players started treating them like, well, everyday ballboys.

“I don’t think that they realise what they have let themselves in for,” Dementieva confessed. “The players are so focused and sometimes they get crazy with the ballboys so they don’t know what they will be facing.”

Almost a week later, with the event now heading towards its climax after a round robin phase, with Maria Sharapova, Nadia Petrova and Justine Henin-Hardenne showing good form overnight, there have been no reports of ballboys actually saying: “Let’s talk about your ball toss, pretty lady”, so Dementieva might have been over-reacting.

And anyway, some of the other female stars were quick to embrace the model ballboys (pun intended). “I was talking to Maria (Sharapova) in the taxi and she said they looked nice,” Lleyton Hewitt’s ex, Kim Clijsters, reported. “I’m excited about it.”

Peter Fray

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