Fedex ATP Ball Kids 2018 – Kiera Foster

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I decided to apply to be a Fedex ball kid for Nitto ATP, with the top 8 mens players because I had wanted to be a ball patrol at the Women’s Hockey World Cup but unfortunately wasn’t old enough. This inspired me to go and try out for the ATP.  We filled out the online forms & questions and I was fortunate enough to be shortlisted and invited to the trials, which were on 30th September at Lee Valley in London.  It was an early start, but once I got going I was fine. I gave it my best, paying attention and focusing on the instructions and drills -- agility, precision, ball throwing, ball rolling, attitude, posture, etc. -- but it was still a nervous wait until the next day when my dad told me that I had made it through. I was so excited and couldn’t wait until the tournament.

During October half term, I travelled to Southampton where I again met with the coaching team led by Mark & Louise, as well as the 25 other successful UK ball kids for a week-long training camp at the David Lloyd centre and Holiday Inn hotel.  This was very challenging physically because it was working muscles that I wasn’t used to working. The fact that I was mainly a ‘centre’ (at the net) didn’t help as it was considerably harder than the ‘base’ (in the corners), but it was worth it in the end. Despite all the new skills we learnt and everything we had to remember, I think the hardest part of the week was leaving everyone on the Friday. Although we barely knew each other at the start of the week, it was sad to leave, but we knew we’d all be seeing each other again in a few weeks.

The day before the tournament started, we arrived at the London hotel.  We checked in, sorted out our room buddies, met the ball kids from China & Brazil, and then took three mini buses to the O2. When we arrived at the O2, you could tell how excited everyone was -- smiling, chattering and generally bouncing. Backstage in the ball kid room, on the same corridor as the doubles players, the first thing we did was get our Lacoste clothing and kit that Fedex provided. This took longer than I had expected because not everything fitted so we had to try lots of things on. After that, we had dinner before seeing the court for the first time. As we practiced the run out for the final time, you could see all the 17,800 empty seats in the arena that would be full the next day, let alone the 110 million people watching on TV around the world!

The first day was nerve-racking as I didn’t really know what to expect, but once I got the first go out of the way I was fine. We were allocated into our teams of 6, confirmed our positions (I was always centre at the net) and got our coordination sorted. I don’t really remember what happened over the next 2 days as they whizzed by, but I do remember our first run out onto the court when the very loud speakers announced, “Please welcome your 2018 FedEx Ball Kids.”  As the music started and we ran, on we were bombarded with bright lights, noise from the sound system, and loads of cheering and clapping.

We walked in formation onto the court and all sense of nervousness vanished, changing to excitement and focused concentration as we were using everything we’d been working on during our trials and training camp – all those drills really were worth it!

The days were very busy, between doing promotion work and fun stuff, school work, and then being on court either as a ball kid or a fielder (to collect stray balls from the arena & audience) for at least two sessions each afternoon and evening.

The atmosphere was incredible, and being so close to the players we were able to see and hear everything and get to know first-hand just what brilliant tennis players and athletes they are and how much they commit.

The last day was especially busy: not only did we have to pack up our rooms and have the emotion of saying goodbye to all our friends, but in the morning we also had the option of a cinema trip or being a ball kid for the ATP U14 finals (which I did), which was great.  I was then on court for both the doubles finals and the singles finals. It was a long day with a late finish – but it was a wonderful week and a fantastic experience.

My favourite moments on court were sorting out Roger Federer’s drinks for him, being on court for the doubles finals presentation, and everyone being on court with Zverev after he’d won.

My favourite moment off court was when we were waiting to go on court and Djokovic came down the corridor to see us and chat.   We also met the players backstage and got our stuff signed by them. I won’t miss all the hairspray we needed to keep our hairstyles in place though!

It was great getting loads of messages each day from family, friends, players I’d been with at Road To Wimbledon -- all saying they’d seen me on court on the TV or while they were watching in the arena.  That really made you think about what a big event it is.

The players, umpires, line judges, officials, coaches, chaperones and support staff were all wonderful with us – even when the squad did make the news a couple of times, everybody was fantastic and supportive.

I am so grateful for this opportunity as it was by far one of the best weeks of my life so far.  I have made memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life and some amazing new friends that I will never forget -- we’re already planning our next 2018 ball-kid get together! And yes, you’ll definitely see me proudly wearing my Lacoste ball-kid gear and my 2018 ATP Ball-Kid hoody around and about Halton and on tennis courts far and wide.

If you want to try out for next years ATP finals as a ball-kid, you can apply here.  You might even get to see me at the trials helping select the next generation! I’d being applying to do it again if it could, as it’s fantastic, but right now I’m focusing on how I can be appearing there as a player!

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