Balles tennis Roland Garros
A couple of the older ones at the front of the line give a "un, deux, trois." Suddenly the children are running down the brick path toward Court Suzanne Lenglen, about 200 yards away. And they are singing.
"On est les ballos!" the children toward the front shout, and the rest of the pack echoes in sing-song fashion. "De Roland Garros! (De Roland Garros!) On va ramasser! (On va ramasser!), Toutes les clbrits! (Toutes les clbrits!)"
Yes, they are the "ballos, " from Roland Garros. They will pick up for the celebrities.
It is a simple song, only three choruses divided by a simpler refrain. But, rooster-like, it serves as the wake-up call each morning for the French Open.
"It's a pleasure for them to do a little show in the morning, to wake up the stadium, " said David Portier, who oversees the ramasseurs de balles from a small, windowless office behind a high-energy ball-kid lounge underneath Court No. 1.
But if it was all about the show, the song-and-run routine would wait until the gates open. Instead, the public rarely sees the ball boys and girls doing anything but silently chasing balls, rolling them underhand along the edges of the court, and dutifully offering balls and towels to the players. Their mission is to be efficient, silent and invisible.
That does not apply in the morning. The children run the straight stretch to Lenglen, up a set of wide stairs, then curl to the left. For 10 minutes, they run laps around the outside of Roland Garros's second-biggest show court.
Then they break into assigned groups around the pathways and sidewalks surrounding Lenglen, sorted by which court they will work that day. And they exercise.
Directed by a coach - an older, experienced ball boy or girl who supervises a particular court's ramasseurs - they run in tight ovals, hands behind their backsides while kicking their heels high. They do side-to-side shuffles and lunging leaps. They side-step forward, again and again, practicing the underhand bowling method used to pass tennis balls around the court.
They stretch by windmilling their arms and reaching for their toes. And at the end, they lie on their backs, feet together in a circle, creating a star. And they stay that way for five minutes.
"It's a moment to relax, to calm down, " Portier explained.
On a recent morning, the exercising came just after the gates of Roland Garros were opened to fans. The ball boys and girls weaved their way between the strolling fans, many of whom stopped to watch, smile and take pictures.
That is why Portier tries to get most of the warm-up done earlier. Not only do the grounds become crowded, but he is worried about who is taking pictures of the children, and where those pictures end up.
"I'm very sensitive, because parents give me the responsibility of their children, " he said.
The ball boys and girls, chosen from about 2, 500 applicants around the country, meet at 9:30 each morning. They fill part of the upper stands at Court No. 1 to hear Portier makes announcements. When he is finished, the children answer with a "merci, " like a congregation answering with an "amen."
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