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I manage Wimbledon's tennis balls. It's harder than you'd think to get 58,000 balls onto the courts of tennis' biggest stars.

Emma Magnus   

I manage Wimbledon's tennis balls. It's harder than you'd think to get 58,000 balls onto the courts of tennis' biggest stars.
  • Andy Chevalier, 41, is an actor, but for just over a month out of the year, he works at Wimbledon.
  • He started as a security guard in 2002 and has been part of the ball-distribution team since 2018.

This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Andy Chevalier, the 41-year-old ball-distribution manager at Wimbledon 2022. It's been edited for length and clarity.

Ball distribution is the hidden gem of the teams on-site at Wimbledon. A lot goes on behind the scenes to ensure enough balls are on the courts for the matches to proceed seamlessly.

If ball distribution were to go wrong, you'd hear someone on the BBC broadcast saying there are no balls on Centre Court.

This year is my first as the ball-distribution manager at Wimbledon. There are nine people on my team.

My role is to ensure that, with my team, there are always enough tennis balls in the right places: match courts, practice courts, under the umpire's chair, and even warm-up balls in the umpire's office.

We've done our job well if no one notices us or knows what we do, and everyone can just focus on the tennis

Last year, I comanaged with my predecessor, the wonderful Brian Mardling. Brian had managed ball distribution for decades and had taken over from the man who had been the manager for decades before him.

I've been on the ball-distribution team since 2018, but I started working at Wimbledon in 2002 as a security guard. I've always loved the buzz before the spectators arrive.

I work at Wimbledon for just over a month every year. The rest of the time, I work as an actor and a voice-over artist. Wimbledon is like another production to me; there's so much work to do to prepare for the main event.

I arrive almost two weeks before the Championships begin to receive the delivery of balls and prepare.

This year's order consisted of over 58,000 balls. Each of Wimbledon's 18 courts needs 21 new cans of balls a day — 18 cans is enough for the longest possible men's game, with three spares, just in case.

The outside courts get 1,900 balls a day. Behind each umpire's chair, there's a metal barrel where the ball boys and girls retrieve them.

Our day starts at 8:45 a.m. with transporting the balls around the venue by buggy. We drop the balls off at their respective courts, then the teams distribute them. For the match courts, like Centre Court or Court One, we deliver the 21 cans in special green bags and store them behind the umpire's chair.

On each court, there's a captain who delivers the used balls back to the ball-distribution office to exchange them for two new cans.

They need to work quickly to exchange the balls before the umpire arrives on the court for the next match

Those balls come back to my office at Centre Court so we can sort through them. We'll go through about 350 balls a day, which takes roughly two hours. We check the balls to see if they've been used in three, five, or seven games. We call these "3,5,7s."

You can tell which number each ball is by the wear of the Slazenger logo — the ball also gets fluffier the more it's used. We squeeze the balls to check that they've still got adequate pressure. If we leave them outside their cans, they'll lose pressure within a day.

We then send the "3,5,7s" back out to the courts.

The umpire stores one or two spare cans under their chair for when players hit the balls out of the court. When that happens, the umpire will examine one of the balls in rotation to match it with one of our "3,5,7s."

The umpire can then drop an equally used ball back into the rotation rather than a new ball, which would hit harder and faster compared to the used one.

Eventually, the balls all come back to the office. We re-tin them and sell them at the Ball-Resale Kiosks, which generate £15,000 for charity each year.

Gammy balls end up with the police dogs

The Umpire's Office also needs balls for when there's a rain delay. We have to keep all the balls from that game separate, so players can continue to use them when the match restarts. We also have to deliver more cans of warm-up balls to the office for when the players return to the courts.

When players get back to the courts, they need balls to warm up, too. Rather than giving them new balls, we give them two tins of five-game balls.

These championships had the worst possible start for me, with half an hour of play followed by a rain delay. The opening Monday was, by far and away, the busiest day I've had since 2018.

If we have a rain delay early on, there's potential for several delays during the day. All 18 courts come off, and when they go back on, they need 36 cans of five-game balls for the players to warm up with. If we're doing it two or three times a day, we'll work through closer to 700 or 800 balls. Sunny days are great for us.

Thankfully, we've never run out of balls on a court

The highlight for me is always the team — I'm lucky to have team members that love fun, long conversations into the night.

It's a lovely place to work; a lovely thing to be a part of. Do I plan to come back next year? Absolutely.