T365 Recall: When the Madrid Masters used models as ball girls

Tennis Features

As Formula 1 does away with grid girls, T365 looks back at the time when the Madrid Masters perhaps ignored  “modern day societal norms”.

F1 will no longer have grid girls at races as the sport’s owners Liberty Media says it “clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms” and they “don’t believe the practice is appropriate or relevant to Formula 1 and its fans, old and new, across the world”.

Madrid Masters officials, though, were not interested in those arguments back in 2004 when they replaced the traditional ball boys and girls with models.

Instead of using teenagers, organisers opted for 19 to 28-year-old professional models.

The Telegraph reported that the models “were selected from 80 candidates from Spanish model agencies” and “they wear T-shirts and skirts split just above knee-length and are each paid £600 for the tournament”.

It was, of course, met with outrage and even the Spanish government got involved as Soledad Murillo, an official from Spain’s labour ministry, said it “contributes to fomenting clear discrimination towards women who appear as simple objects of decoration and amusement”.

Even Andre Agassi didn’t think it was appropriate.

He initially joked: “It was difficult, to say the least, to concentrate on the ball. But I suppose I had an advantage, I’m used to playing with my wife.”

He then got serious and felt it’s not something that tennis needs.

“I need some time to let it absorb. It’s important for our sport to understand its product clearly… but I’m not quite convinced it’s part of our product,” he added.

However, the head of the company running the tournament Gerard Tsobanian didn’t want to budge.

“We will continue with our project until the end,” he said. “We want to do something new. This is not machista, we want a women’s tournament here, too, and for that we would use male models.”

Despite the uproar, the models returned the next year and the year after and the year after. Perhaps the outfits were not as skimpy as they were during the first edition.

They have made changes in recent years though as the traditional ball boys and girls are now back on court during the early rounds, but the models are still on part of it come the semi-finals and final.

We will have to wait and see if the models return for the 2018 edition of the Madrid Masters.