Traditionally, schoolkids are employed as ball boys and girls to retrieve tennis balls and toss them to the serving player before each point.
But for the event at London’s Royal Albert Hall tournament organizers opted to draft in reinforcements, in the form of Hattie, Tina and Melvin, a trio of ‘ball dogs’ whose job was to fetch the loose balls at the end of each rally.
The helpful hounds arrived on court to a huge reception as The Baja Men’s ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’ played over the arena’s PA system.
The dogs were provided by charity Canine Partners, which provides training for canines so they can work alongside people with disabilities or additional needs.
Former British tennis ace Tim Henman was drafted in to help train the dogs, who were put to work during the doubles match featuring court legends Mansour Bahrami, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Henri Leconte and Mikael Pernfors, according to Reuters.
And the wise-cracking Bahrami in particular seemed to enjoy having the additional help on court, as he played with the canine companions as they scampered around to retrieve the balls for the veteran players.
“Normally they’re used to picking things up within the job that we use them for, so we may drop pens and inhalers and they’re used to retrieving things for us, but we don’t generally use an awful lot of tennis balls,” admitted Canine Partners aftercare manager Claire Anthony.
“We’ve been going to lots of tennis courts and working around self-control around people playing tennis and then retrieving balls and towels.”
‘Ball dogs’ aren’t a completely new idea and they have been used at a tournament in Brazil. But their appearance in London was a first, and it added an extra level of amusement for the crowd, who were already entertained by the light-hearted play on court from the veteran tennis stars of yesteryear.
Henman joked: “What do they say about working with animals and children? Don’t do it!”