Teenager Paul Baker has the best view in the house at Wimbledon and the cheers give him goosebumps. He will never forget the day when, at the age of 14, he was a ball boy on Centre Court for the 2006 final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. All those months of training, all those 12-hour days at the tournament were worth it.
“When Federer won the final point, I was right there, I got goosebumps,” he said after returning for a second year to act as a ball boy at the world's most famous tennis tournament. “You have a smirk on your face afterwards. You cannot describe the feeling — but it is a good one,” he said.
“I loved every minute of it and I wanted to do it again,” he said after coming off centre court as ball boy to Federer in his opening match at this year's tournament.
The London schoolboy, who at 15, fears he is leaving it too late to become a tennis professional, said “Nadal started when he was four, Federer when he was five”.
But he was fascinated by the contrasting temperaments of the two tennis gladiators. “Federer is very gentleman-like. Nadal is more wanting to win every point, that sort of passion for the game,” he said.
Being out there in the firing line can be scary and you need lightening-fast reflexes as a ball boy or girl. Booming server Andy Roddick offers the ultimate test. “I did Roddick once. You have got to move as soon as you see the ball coming,” he said. “You don’t realise how hard they are hitting the ball until you have been a ball boy. It is coming straight at you.” And the ball boys and girls have to make sure they pander to the superstitions of top players. “Maria Sharapova only ever takes the ball from her right side. I was on her left side so I never fed her,” Baker said.