Wimbledon Almanack: To serve with love

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The Independent Online
THEY are the envy of every schoolchild in the country. While their contemporaries sweat in classrooms they toss towels to Agassi and Sampras, pour water for Sabatini and Sanchez. For Wimbledon's ball boys and ball girls, the Championship is a kind of summer camp made in heaven.

'I don't give 'em names,' says Wally Wonfor, the avuncular, silver-bearded gentleman who has been supervising them for 26 years. 'I give 'em numbers. It's not 'Hey, so-and-so', it's 'Hey, number seven'.'

A ball girl trots past heading for another shift, a bruise on her knee. 'Super girl, that,' Wally says fondly. 'One of my veterans.' 'I'll be a dead veteran soon,' she puffs back.

Between shifts the boys and girls get a 40-minute break which they can spend watching the tennis. Most prefer to return to their HQ, located down a warren of corridors behind No 1 Court. There's a lounge area, with in opposite corners a television set showing Becker eliminating Thoms, and a computer game screen showing aliens eliminating earthlings. Reassuringly, the tennis seemed the more popular. Next door, in the canteen, a group of ball girls were playing Trump and Cheat, whooping and giggling. Do they find it hard to hide their emotions on court? 'It's difficult at first not to shout when a player you like does something great,' Vicky, 16, told Almanack. 'But you just . . . ' she clenched her fists, hard, 'and stand really still.'

We sought predictions. Agassi and Navratilova got the girls' vote; the boys went for the smooth one and Novotna. 'Agassi's not bad,' said 15- year-old Imran. 'But I don't see why he shaves his chest.' Nor do we, young man, nor do we.

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