MONTREAL — They go almost unnoticed at major tennis tournaments such as the Rogers Cup — the ball chasers.
But these hard-working teenagers have a tough job — so tough they had to survive a boot camp just to earn the privilege to work as gophers on tennis' grand stage.
Just like the players, ball chasers dream of being selected to work the final.
An army of chasers serves the players at the Rogers Cup, sporting red shirts and caps along with black shorts. Their job is to scurry after stray balls, handing them to the players just before service and keeping towels at the ready.
It might seem a simple task, but not everyone makes the cut.
An annual training camp is held in mid-July to put prospective chasers through their paces to see who has the best skills.
Marianne and Camille, who have worked a number of tournaments in Montreal, explain what it takes to ascend to the chaser elite.
"You have to throw well, that's for sure," Marianne said. "You have to communicate well on the court and, most of all, be alert."
Even those who are selected to work the early rounds of the Rogers Cup are under the microscope to see who has the right stuff for the final weekend.
Some are sent home on Wednesday and there are further cuts on Thursday and Friday to pare the squad down to the best of the best.
The work is gruelling, with chasers working three to four games a day, sometimes five a day during qualifying, often under the sweltering August sun.
Camille said that not all of the players are angels.
"Some players are more difficult to chase, especially the ones who throw balls everywhere after they've chosen one," she said.
"But we know it's not personal."
There there's the ribbing the chasers have to put up with from colleagues up in the stands, who point out every dropped ball and misstep.
Camille says errors usually can be chalked up to nerves.
"It's really stressful the first time when you run on to the court with the music and the crowd," she said.
But, judging by the smiles on the two girls' faces, it's all worth it for a chance to rub elbows with the world's best.