Ball-boy with grandchilden swaps peace for piece of the action at 64

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When Stan Bretner sold his computer software development company and moved with his wife from Washington DC to the warmth of Florida, a peaceful retirement beckoned.

He became a tennis nut, playing for three hours every day, but after a career travelling the world on business he soon decided he wanted more. He wanted to see the big names of tennis close up and to work alongside them, so he applied to be a ball-boy here at the Nasdaq-100 Open. He was accepted, took part in all the training programmes and worked at last year's tournament, including the women's final.

Bretner's wife and two children thought he would then settle back into retirement, but at 64 years old he is now a regular figure on the circuit and is back working here for the second year in succession, having also been a ball-boy at Amelia Island, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles and Indian Wells. He pays his own way and loves every moment of it.

"My grandchildren think I'm crazy, but they love to see me on television," he said. "They think it's the coolest thing in the world.

"The other ball kids weren't quite sure about me at first. Some of them thought I was a spy or something. Then they saw me doing everything they did and quickly accepted me."

The players are often similarly surprised. "Sometimes you can see they're thinking: 'He looks like my grandfather.' Guillermo Coria virtually adopted me. He kept telling all the other ball kids to give the balls to me. And towards the end of a match at Amelia Island Venus Williams sent a message asking me to hang around because she wanted to have her picture taken with me. Nearly all the players are very polite, despite the pressure they're under, though very few actually thank you when you give them the balls. Tim Henman's an exception, though. He's a real gentleman.

"The most important thing is to be prepared for the individual needs of each player. Some want to be given the balls quickly, others more slowly. Maria Sharapova only takes the balls from the ball person in the deuce court.

"Rafael Nadal always has to have two drinks bottles in exactly the same spot. Andre Agassi has to have a towel at each end of the court and he has to be able to see them. He gets upset if they're hidden away."

Bretner was turned down by the US Open but will try again this year. He is hoping to work at the Australian Open and has also written to Wimbledon and the French Open. "I've suggested that Wimbledon might like to use a senior visiting guest ball-boy," he said. "If I could get to the Grand Slam tournaments I would die a happy man."