The ball boys and girls, in their own words – Part 6: Louis Couput
Year after year, hundreds of young people apply to become ball boys and girls at the French Open, putting themselves through an arduous selection process that involves some tough training and ball-throwing, agility and running tests. For those who make the grade, the Roland-Garros fortnight is a subtle blend of stress and passion, an amazing adventure in which they walk the very same clay as the game’s greatest players. For a fortunate few, the experience ends with them walking hand in hand with one of the finalists in front of a capacity 15,000 crowd at the Philippe-Chatrier, a moment of intimacy and the perfect end to magical tournament, every detail of which they will remember for many, many years to come. So here, in their own words and in a sixth instalment, come the ball boys and girls.
Louis Couput, walking out Maria Sharapova at the 2013 women’s final
"It was crazy"
"It was a real surprise. I was out in the stadium buying souvenirs for my family. A supervisor came to find me and said, ‘We’ve been looking for you everywhere. Come quickly, you need to get ready.’ It was just twenty minutes before the start of the warm-up for the final, and I hadn’t been told! Even at that point, I didn’t know why he wanted me. They quickly took me to the changing rooms and told me to get ready, do my hair. And then they said, ‘Get ready…you’re going to lead a player out onto Centre Court.’ I was so happy, it was crazy! Me and the other ball boy took just a couple of seconds to choose our player. We were just so happy to do it that it was easy to choose. It didn’t really matter to us which player we got!”
"I wondered what I was doing there!"
"Waiting to go on is quite stressful. I remember that Sharapova glanced at me then took my hand. She was very focused, with her visor on her head, a closed and determined expression on her face. It felt like she was already immersed in the match. I was really focused too. Leading a player out is a massive thing! The moment you step onto the court and the spectators all applaud is incredible. I remember that evening, my mum rang me because she’d seen me on telly. She took a photo, and it was me and Sharapova in the frame. Both of us were on screen, it was almost unreal. Everyone was shouting, I looked around, wondering what I was doing there. It’s quite surreal to have 15,000 people looking at you like that. I remember that I was blushing! Afterwards, I went to watch the match on the giant screen. At the beginning, I hadn’t particularly supported her, but after that I wanted her to win. It’s funny, this experience also left its mark on other people: for months afterwards, a friend kept asking me if I’d washed my hand since the final!”
"One of my top three experiences"
"It was really intense but, despite everything, I have had some even better experiences as a ball kid. I was lucky enough to be on duty for the quarterfinal between Tsonga and Federer. I’ve got a great memory of Tsonga saying a few words to me at the start of the match, which was really kind of him, probably because he was less stressed and less focused than Sharapova was for her final. That was a really special moment. Then, at the Rolex Paris Masters, I got to speak to Roger Federer and even had my photo taken with him. Along with Sharapova, those are my top three experiences as a ball boy. I think they will stay with me for the rest of my life, they’re wonderful memories. Only very few of us have such an opportunity, so it makes you appreciate it even more.”