It's a secret place. Forbidden to the public but essential for the smooth running of the Roland-Garros tournament. To enter, it is essential to show a white paw, wear the correct accreditation around your neck. Some call it the bunker or the cellar, but Arthur Bongrand, the owner, prefers the official name. For him it is therefore “the locker room for ball collectors”. But in fact, it's more than a simple locker room, it's "a real living area", "a second home or even the first during the three weeks of the tournament (
Editor's note: with the qualifying week
)", said the person, present on site from 7:30 am.
Formerly located under court number 1 of the Porte d'Auteuil stadium, this nerve center is now hidden from the gaze of the curious under courts n ° 7 and n ° 9. To enter it is to enter into the little stories of the great tournament.
"We are in charge of everything that happens on the court: referees, collectors and players", explains Bongrand.
Players can be brittle
After having taken a corridor and descended about ten steps, you enter the heart of the "bunker".
Between two rolls, ball collectors rest, chat or redo the matches.
Some have fun recounting their exploits as when they catch the ball on a serve on the bounce.
One room is reserved for linens, another for food.
At the end of the tournament, the walkie-talkies are arranged and lined up by ten on a piece of furniture.
At the start of the fortnight, they were all used.
The Ballos of @rolandgarros are ready!
Beginning of the big table next Sunday
(📸 rgballos) pic.twitter.com/AIERYwJrhM
- We Are Tennis France (@WeAreTennisFR) May 24, 2021
Arthur Bongrand and his assistant manage around thirty temporary supervisors - “These are students or ex-collectors who take unpaid leave to come during the tournament. It is a kif for them to come and return every year ”- and 280 ball collectors aged between 12 and 16 years old. On a wall, the photos of this shadow army are pasted. "These are the little hands of Roland-Garros, they are essential for the proper functioning of matches and therefore of the tournament," continues the 33-year-old boss. They are the first victims of the players. Some, depending on the results, may start to become demanding, and sometimes brittle, with ball collectors to relieve themselves of a mental load. Matches are also going faster and faster with the new rules. "
In an office behind the reception, a dozen assistants are attentive to the slightest message that could appear on their computer screen.
Phones with their many dedicated WhatsApp groups vibrate constantly.
A team of 8 "runners" is ready at the slightest request, if a player wants a towel, a nail clipper, a banana or a scrunchie to hold the hair, they must react instantly.
Bongrand and his team know all the little quirks of the actors of Roland-Garros.
Apples, sawdust, coffee ...
"If a player has a request, our goal is to respond as quickly as possible so that he is in the best possible conditions to be able to focus only on his game and that he can produce the best tennis," confides the interested.
If so, the show is on and the audience will be happy.
As here on the Suzanne-Lenglen, the ball collectors play a major role in the smooth running of the matches.
LP / Arnaud Journois
German Jan-Lennard Struff, 8th finalist this year, wants sawdust to apply to his hands during matches.
Fernando Verdasco only eats apples during matches, Rafael Nadal, the ogre of ocher, has only eaten dates "for 4 or 5 years".
"We bring him before the game," says Bongrand.
We note the habits and we know them by force.
We are a prestigious tournament, we have this responsibility.
We must provide an individual and adapted service.
»To each his own little quirks or habits.
Read also Roland-Garros: Nadal, his Paris, his quirks
The Swiss Stan Wawrinka, winner in 2015, wants a dozen towels for each match and always white ones. "He finds that they are of better quality than the others," says Bongrand. Once, at the Paris Bercy tournament, he had asked for a coffee on the court between two games. He hasn't asked for it here yet (
), but we're ready if needed. On the courts, there is crushed ice in case of heat, a player recently asked for real ice cubes, we had to go get some in a restaurant. "
The hundreds of balls used during the tournament are collected for the training of the juniors, are given to clubs or entrusted to the various shops of the stadium. But owning a ball hit by Nadal, Djokovic, Federer or a stranger has a significant cost: 10 euros. “They are also increasingly recycled to make floors for children's play areas. One secret among others.