Tennis world prompts change after 'disgusting' ball girl drama at Madrid Open

The tournament surprised fans with a change in Carlos Alcaraz's final.

Tennis ball woman at the Madrid Open and Carlos Alcaraz walks onto centre court.

The Madrid Open has appeared to backdown over the backlash regarding their ball women outfits on main court after furore erupted last week. Tennis fans became outraged last week when viewers noticed the difference in outfits from the ball women on main court and those on the outside arenas.

The ball people on La Caja Magica stadium, broadcasted to a larger worldwide audience, were an all-female ball girl crew for male matches. Carlos Alcaraz, the biggest name in the Madrid Open draw, played on the main court and viewers often noticed the 20-year-old Spaniard walking out in front of the women wearing short skirts and with their midriff on display.

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On the outside courts, both boys and girls are used - and their outfits are much more conservative. The mixed crew wear a blue outfit with the Lacoste logo and the ball team is also made up of younger participants who have trained for longer.

Rennae Stubs was one tennis great to label the situation 'ridiculous' as the tournament has historically faced backlash over the ball women outfits. Tennis fans blasted the fact that younger ball kids have been shunted to the outside courts in favour of 'models', and questioned why the practice is happening in 2023.

The model ball women remained for Alcaraz's semi-final win over Borna Coric on La Caja Magica stadium. However, fans were quick to point out that during Alcaraz's victory over Jan-Lennard Struf in the final, the ball women had changed outfit.

The ball women had moved from skirts to three-quarter length pants, which would suggest a more conservative move after the backlash. The change in outfit didn't go unnoticed with fans labelling the decision as 'damage control' after the furious backlash surrounding the Madrid Open.

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'.

Madrid Open faces backlash over women's double final

The Madrid Open has been in the spotlight this week for all the wrong reasons and it has been over the treatment of the ball women and the female players. A debate erupted among fans after Spanish World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz was presented with a comically large cake to celebrate his birthday after a match on centre court, with fans noticing Aryna Sabalenka had been given a noticeably smaller dessert by the tournament.

And to make matters worse, tournament boss Feliciano Lopez looking notably unimpressed when finalist Swiatek made mention in her speech that two of her matches had ended past 1am local time. Then none of the women's doubles finalists - Gauff, Pegula, Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Haddad-Maia - were permitted to speak after their match.

Iga Swiatek gets ready for a match at the Madrid Open as the male ball people walk past.
Iga Swiatek (pictured) and other female players on main court played in front of an all-male crew who were conservatively dressed. (Getty Images)

None of the four players said they had been told why they weren't allowed to make a speech - with Gauff writing on Twitter afterwards that she 'wasn't given a chance to speak'. Pegula added to Gauff's tweet with a 'lips zipped' emoji, while Azarenka said it had been 'hard to explain' to her young son why she wasn't able to say hello to him after the match.

Players such as Ons Babeur blasted the decision to not allow the finalists to speak, while Stubbs also weighed-in and labelled the move as a 'disgrace'. The backlash will only further calls for change in next year's tournament.

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