Tennis fans call for change in 'disgusting' ball girl drama at Madrid Open

The Spanish tournament has once again copped backlash over the use of models as ball people.

Carlos Alcaraz walks out in front the ball women on centre court and a ball woman holding an umbrella at the Madrid Open.
The Madrid Open has once again come under fire for the use of 'inappropriate' outfits for the ball women on centre court, which has been seen during matches for Carlos Alcaraz (pictured left). (Getty Images)

The Madrid Open has once again come under fire for the use of models wearing 'skimpy' outfits for centre court matches for players such as Carlos Alcaraz. In a sport that is constantly battling gender equality issues for pay and outfits, the Madrid Open continues to stand out for the wrong reasons in tennis over the clothing used for models acting as ball people.

Throughout the 2023 tournament, viewers have noticed the different uniforms used on the outside courts compared to those on the main court, with the action on the La Caja Magica stadium broadcast to a larger worldwide audience. Alcaraz is the biggest name currently playing at the Madrid Open, and organisers have been using an all-female ball girl crew for his matches.

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In complete contrast to what the kids wear on the outside courts, the women on centre court wear tops bearing their midriffs. On the outside courts, both boys and girls are used - and their outfits are much more conservative.

On the other courts, the mixed crew wear a blue outfit with the Lacoste logo. The crew is also made up of younger participants who have trained for longer.

The tournament caused controversy back in 2004 when models in their 20s were employed to take part. After uproar over the outfits, the Madrid Open employed male models in 2006 and 2007 to take part in the women's matches. In this year's tournament, Iga Swiatek walked out in front of a number of male 'models', who are being used as the ball men on the main court.

The situation over the years has divided players. When the decision was made in 2004, tennis icon Andre Agassi questioned the use of the 'models' as ball people and whether it was good for tennis. Marat Safin, the winner of the 2004 tournament, said it was publicity for the sport regardless if it was bad or good.

"The models mean people are still talking about tennis. Good publicity, bad publicity. It doesn’t matter," he said after the introduction of the new ball people. To this day the controversy remains, with many on social media taking exception to the 'disgusting' and 'perverted' move.

Tennis world rages over Madrid Open ball women outfits

While the outfits aren't as revealing at this year's tournament, viewers still noticed the difference in outfits and the appearance of the ball people on the main court compared to the outside courts. Many have blasted the fact that younger ball kids have been shunted to the outside courts in favour of better looking replacements, and questioned why the practice is happening in 2023.

One tennis fan put the controversy to Aussie great Rennae Stubbs. "Have we talked about the midriff-baring ball girls outfits in the Madrid Open? What's that about?" the person put to Stubbs.

Carlos Alcaraz (pictured) walks out in front of the female ball women on the Caja Magica. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)
Carlos Alcaraz (pictured) walks out in front of the female ball women on the Caja Magica. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)

The tennis great replied: "I have no idea. I could guess, but I don't want to assume." After one user explained some background around the decision, Stubbs wrote: "It's ridiculous."

Viewers were also stunned at how the trained ball girls and boys had been moved to the outside courts, which is in stark contrast to the grand slams where the participants undergoing rigorous training.

The Madrid Open stands out in the tennis world for the wrong reasons, amid some recent moves by the sport to be more inclusive. Earlier this year, Wimbledon announced that for the first time ever, women's players will be able to wear coloured undershorts - under the all-white attire - to accomodate players on their period. Female players previously had to wear white underwear as well - in line with the strict dress code at the All England Club.

The situation at the Madrid Open also comes after a number of sports moved away from featuring models and promo women at events. Formula One removed the use of pit-lane models in 2018, darts has removed the walk-on women that used to accompany the players, while the Tour de France also decided to remove the podium models after backlash.

Iga Swiatek gets ready for her match as the ball men walk past her.
Iga Swiatek (pictured left) plays on the La Caja Magica stadium in front of the 'model' ball men. (Getty Images)

Furthermore, there was backlash at the Australian Open this year after it came to light that ball kids work for free. Fans flocked to social media to decry the fact that the kids don't get paid for the work they do.

Ball kids get $15 per hour at the US Open, while at Wimbledon they get a flat rate of $351 per week. But it's very different at the Australian Open, with the kids taking part for the love of the sport and the experience.

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