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Alix Ramsay Looks At Milan Tennis 2018 • Towels | Ballkids Are An Interesting Side Story

Photo by @ATPWorldTour via Twitter



Before we go any further, we can bring you an update on the ground breaking research we revealed last week into the use of towel racks at the Next Gen finals. No one could ever accuse this website of not being cutting edge.


After two days of play in Milan, the general feeling towards the controversial racks seems to be less than enthusiastic. Stefanos Tsitsipas is definitely not a fan. He used to be a ball boy so has some sympathy for the on-court minions who must fetch and carry the sweaty towels but he is both a player and a bloke – multi-tasking is not his thing. Constantly worried about how and when he was going to collect his mopper-upper, he was not a happy lad. And then there were the hygiene issues to worry about.


“I saw a towel and I wasn’t sure if it was mine or my opponent’s,” he explained after tiptoeing past Jaume Munar in his opening match. “So I used new towels in every set.”


An intelligent man who has made as much of an impression with his off-court observations as he has with his on-court athleticism, our Stefanos is not one to complain for the sake of it. Should anyone care to listen, he is willing to offer advice and tips to make the tournament better. Like putting two towel racks at each end of the court and putting name plates on them. Then the players can have a towel at each end of the court, leave them there and always know where their towels are and who they belong to. And given the speed with which the ATP managed to find sponsor branding to put on their shiny, new towel racks, it shouldn’t be too, too difficult to Sellotape a wee paper name tag to each one.


Frances Tiafoe is none too keen on the new-fangled gadgets, either. It is not the concept so much as the positioning of the damned things. “We are going pretty quick and I walk slow,” he said. “I got some time violations…”. Oh dear. Wait until Del Po plays on a court with towel racks. A great athlete, a fabulous player and smashing fella, Delps is the slowest moving thing between points. He makes three toed sloths look hyperactive. I swear that man even sleeps slowly. He will not fare well with an ill-placed towel rack and an ever ticking shot clock.


But as this year’s crop of superstars-in-waiting strut their stuff in Italy, the mind wanders. What of last year’s Next Gen debutants? Have they stormed the gates of the elite? Are they destroying the reputations of the established superheroes? Er, not quite.


Messrs Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are still proudly wearing their underpants over their shorts and stubbornly refusing to fold away their capes. It has been that way for more than a decade and as Djoko galloped up the rankings to reclaim the year-end No.1 spot, it showed little sign of stopping. Generations come and generations go but the Big Boys go on forever.


Sure enough Hyeon Chung (last year’s champion), Denis Shapovalov, Borna Coric, Daniil Medvedev, Karen Khachanov et al have all done well this year, but they are still knocking on the door of the big time, waiting to come in. Khachanov has done particularly well, winning in Moscow and then heading to Paris to win his first Masters 1000 title in Bercy. He beat Djokovic to do it, too, but Djoko was a little jaded in the final. Struggling with a flu bug, he was still cream crackered after beating the Mighty Fed in the semi-finals in one of the best matches he had ever played against the old GOAT. He had also done what he set out to do: he had secured the No.1 ranking and now he had London and the O2 Arena to think about. Job done.


The Next Gen, then, must know what it is like to be Prince Charles. HRH Charlie Boy will be 70 next week and still he hasn’t got a job. He has spent most of the last five decades maundering around behind his mum and waiting for… well, for Her Maj to fall off the perch. There is only one job he is qualified to do but the position is currently filled. And given that Her Maj’s mum lived to be 101, it may be filled for some time to come (indestructible Queenie is a mere stripling of 92).


Charlie Boy, then, is at a loose end. He has now been drafted in to represent Her Maj on big, overseas trips (the ones that involve jet lag, serious sunshine and dodgy plumbing) but if there is anything Her Maj likes and fancies, he doesn’t get a look in. The flat racing season? Royal Ascot? Run along Charles, you are not needed here. Go and hug a tree, there’s a good boy.


He has tried to fill his time by pontificating about architecture (his preferred genre is middle class twee), trying to save the planet (a worthy venture but difficult to achieve from an 18th century pile in Gloucestershire), talking to his plants (straight up, not a word of a lie) and planting trees. He likes planting trees. By way of a special gift, he planted an entire wood when his grandson, Prince George, was born. George may have preferred a Playstation but that just barmy old grandpa for you. And still Chas waits for a real role in life.


The Next Gen have a more fulfilling life than the heir to House of Windsor but still they are forced to wait for their turn at the top. Seven of the world’s top 10 – and six of the top seven – are in their 30s. The usual suspects of Fed, Raf and Djoko carved up the grand slam titles between them and of the four beaten finalists, only Dominic Thiem was making his debut at such a level. And he was sploshed by Raf at Roland Garros. Thiem is also 25 so has been waiting rather longer than the rest to stake his claim for greatness.


Only 21-year-old Alexander Zverev has elbowed his way into the upper echelons of the rankings, peaking at No.3 a year ago and currently lying in fifth spot. But he has only reached one grand slam quarter-final so far and having needed three consecutive five-setters to get there, he was toast when he faced Thiem at the French Open in June. Making his debut at the ATP World Tour Finals last year, he won only one match and never made it out of the round robin phase.


Perhaps the Next Gen should take up tree planting as they while away the seasons, waiting for The Establishment to retire. Or maybe HRH Charlie Boy should take up tennis (there’s a gift idea for Camilla if she’s struggling to get the old boy something original: a racket and a snazzy new pair of kicks). Either way, they both may have a long time to wait until they get their turn in the spotlight.

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