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Monday, October 18, 2004
Models replace ball kids in Madrid

ESPN.com news services

MADRID, Spain -- Fashion models replaced traditional ball boys and girls in the biggest surprise Monday at the Tennis Masters Series in Madrid, where expected winners included Albert Costa, Alex Corretja and Luis Horna.

Model In Spain
Models will work as ball girls one televised match each day during the tournament in Madrid.

Women in black tops and white, knee-length skirts chased errant shots during Costa's 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 victory over Irakli Labadze. Reportedly paid $1,100 for the week, the women were greeted by cheers and whistles at the Madrid Rockodrome indoor court.

The women are appearing in one televised match each day during the tournament.

"They did it very well. I didn't notice any difference," said Costa, who won his first match in six tournaments. "It's entertaining, and I like the idea that the tournament should do this."

The 19 to 28-year-olds were drafted in as ball girls to replace the young fans who usually run around picking up stray balls and handing towels to players. Despite winning applause from spectators, they had a mixed reception off-court.

Left-wing Madrid politician Ines Sabanes said employing the women, who wear skirts and tight tops emblazoned with the name of a sponsor, was sexist and frivolous.

Parents of the teenagers they ousted felt it was a heartless move. "This kills the children's dreams of sharing a court with their idols," said a 50-year-old mother.

Some fans fretted about the models' lack of experience -- most knew little about tennis before signing up for the job although they went through two weeks of theory and practical lessons to prepare for the high profile matches.

"I started from zero, apart from a bit of messing around on the beach," said Mercedes Munoz, 26, at a pre-game makeup session on Monday.

The ball girls they replaced, dressed in less glamorous black shorts and shirts, were unconvinced despite the training.

"We think its very, very bad because in a game of tennis the centre of attention should be the player. It's sport, not a catwalk," said one 14-year-old who did not want to be named.

Only the players, more focused on winning than on ball-girls' looks, seem to have shrugged off the controversy.

"When you're on the court, you only look at the ball and your coach -- as long as its the same ball it doesn't matter (who throws it)," Corretja said.

Costa now faces top-seeded Tim Henman in the second round Wednesday.

"It'll be a very difficult match," said Costa, the 2002 French Open champion. "We've played each other a lot. I've beat him; he's beat me. But he's in better form than I am. I'll go out with nothing to lose and under no pressure."

Also Monday, Corretja beat David Ferrer 7-5, 6-1, and Horna defeated Hicham Arazi 6-4, 7-5. Corretja next meets 16th-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan, while Horna must play defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.

In other action, Olympic silver medalist Mardy Fish came back to beat Wimbledon semifinalist Mario Ancic 0-6, 6-4, 6-4, Robby Ginepri got past Juan Luis Tati Rascon 6-1, 6-4, Stefan Koubek beat Sjeng Schalken 6-4, 6-4, Robin Soderling eliminated Florian Mayer 6-3, 7-6 (2), and Antony Dupuis downed Agustin Calleri 6-4, 6-4.

The top three men in the rankings -- Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt -- withdrew, but major champions Andre Agassi and Marat Safin are entered.

On Tuesday, Agassi will play Max Mirnyi, a 6-3, 7-6 (3) winner against David Sanchez.

Corretja blamed the withdrawals on the sport's hectic schedule.

"It's a shame that four or five of the best players are not here," he said. "My experience tells me that it's hard to keep up with the rhythm in the world of tennis. It's not human. You have to stop and rest.

"You have to be prepared to win the tournament, and if you're not, it's better not to go," he added.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.