Tennis Prose




Feb/24

4

When Billie Jean King Snapped At A Ballboy

We all know tennis can be excruciatingly stressful and tense and even the coolest, most admired legends of the game can have a bad moment of judgement they would later regret.

Even Billie Jean King, the pioneer hero and sort of godmother of tennis, was not always an angel on the court in the heat of an intense battle.

A former ballboy of King’s explained his memorable episode on the court with the Hall of Fame legend who was playing arch rival Margaret Court in a final.

“I was a corner ball boy at at Virginia slims tournament in Boston 1973,” remembers Paul O’Malley, of Quincy, MA. “Billie was on my side and was being run around on this point. She ended up losing the point near me and she walked up to me and said, in a whispering voice, ‘You motherf*****.’ She didn’t seem to be outwardly mad. I was taken aback at first but I knew she was just venting to me. She got set to serve looked over at me a gave me a smile. I knew she was only kidding around. It was funny.”

King lost that final to Margaret Court but won the doubles with partner Rosie Casals.

Today if one of the top stars, such as Djokovic or Zverev or Swiatek, committed such a momentary loss of emotional control, you just know the media hounds would turn this incident into an international news story and the player’s mental health would be criticized viciously and relentlessly until that player was practically traumatized.

But the lesson is, King snapped for a moment, went crazy, quickly recovered and became one of the biggest icons in sports history. Sometimes minor, momentary misbehaviors need to be let go and forgotten.

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11 comments

  • Sam · February 5, 2024 at 8:38 pm

    I looked up Paul O’Malley. It seems he would’ve been about 16 at that tournament in 1973. To say something like that to someone who’s not an adult was completely inappropriate. She also didn’t apologize.

    Disgusting, if you ask me. 🤮

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 5, 2024 at 8:41 pm

    It’s shocking Sam that a pro player would say that to a ballkid. Especially a grand slam champion and legend of the game. I have heard of some players saying even worse things on court, men and women players. It gets tense out there and some people have to vent.

  • Sam · February 10, 2024 at 6:35 am

    Well, Scoop, if they’re going to vent, they don’t have to do it on a ballkid. 🤢

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 10, 2024 at 7:59 am

    Sam it happens in the heat of battle. I’ve seen some very prominent players abuse ballkids. One normally composed Spaniard former no. 1 threw his soaking wet nike shirt in his face after a loss in Miami. Another hotheaded Italian made a lunging volley winner at net post to earn his second match point and then instantly screamed roared in the chinese glasses wearing ballboy’s face for five seconds. He won the three set match on the next point. I’m sure there are other examples I’ve forgotten. It’s a crazy sport sometimes.

  • Sam · February 13, 2024 at 11:44 pm

    Sam it happens in the heat of battle. I’ve seen some very prominent players abuse ballkids.

    Scoop, I believe you that it happens, but that will never make it okay. I mean, if you had a daughter who was ballkid and she got treated like that by some player, would you just put up with it? 🤔

    One normally composed Spaniard former no. 1 threw his soaking wet nike shirt in his face after a loss in Miami.

    In a ballkid’s face? 😳

    Another hotheaded Italian made a lunging volley winner at net post to earn his second match point and then instantly screamed roared in the chinese glasses wearing ballboy’s face for five seconds.

    Well, there should be very stiff penalties for that kind of behavior.

    If Djokovic did something like what you’ve mentioned to a ballkid, what do you think the reaction would be from the tennis world? And whatever your answer is, that should apply to all players who engage in such abuse.🧐

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 14, 2024 at 8:15 am

    Well, Sam the ballboy was in his early 20s, he told me years ago, he later went on to work for ATP. It’s very rare. Yes I think it’s wrong and nuts to bully a ballkid and it’s unacceptable in any case, even Federer hitting a missed serve at a ballkid expecting him to be ready to catch it and it hits him.

  • Sam · February 18, 2024 at 9:20 pm

    Scoop, if the guy was in his early 20s, then why wasn’t he called a “ballman”? 😹

    No matter the age of the victim, of course, that behavior is unacceptable. By the way, did Billie Jean ever win any “sportsmanship” awards? 😜

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 19, 2024 at 8:11 am

    Sam, because anyone who aspires to be a ballkid should be called a kid. It should be a rule of tennis that you have to be under 17 to work as a ball kid. Sarasota Open and others such tournaments are exempt because it’s held when kids are in school.

  • Sam · February 22, 2024 at 8:40 pm

    Just curious, Scoop—have you ever been a ballboy yourself? 😁

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 22, 2024 at 9:57 pm

    Never have Sam but I have interviewed several ball kids and collected some excellent stories which I added to my books, Facing Sampras and Facing Federer. REally cool interactions they had with both Pete and Fed at US OPen. Actually it was the same guy Danny Casessa, I still remember his name )

  • Sam · February 27, 2024 at 10:31 pm

    Glad that Casessa’s experiences were so positive, Scoop. 🙂

    Incidentally, I just remembered something that happened at Roland Garros in 2019. After a match, a French ballboy posted this message to Laslo Djere’s Instagram page:

    [translated from French] You treat the ballkids like dogs. 😳

    This French boy later said that he didn’t know if it was because Djere was simply upset, but that he spoke to him very meanly just because he was kind of clumsy at Roland Garros. Pretty sad. 😤

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