Wimbledon is one of the most beloved tennis tournaments of all time, but unfortunately, it hasn’t been without its share of disasters. Here are the five times it had to be canceled after the ball boys and girls adopted a pack mentality.
1. Wimbledon 1921: When the dominant ball boy took control
While ball boys had always been an integral part of Wimbledon, no one could have foreseen what happened in 1921, when one large ball boy, known as the Pack Leader, took control of the smaller ball boys and created a horde so powerful that the entire tournament had to be shut down. It all started on the fifth day of play, a 5-foot, 6-inch 13-year-old boy on center court demanded through a series of cryptic arm waves and hand signals that the other ball boys bring every single ball on the court back to him, instead of to the players. At first, organizers were hard-pressed to cancel the entire tournament, but just hours after the battle for territory began, the Pack Leader had stolen more than 12 different racquets and instructed the younger ball boys to form a protective shield around him by both running back and forth across the court and rolling balls along the ground to trip any member of the authorities who got too close. At that point, officials had no choice but to send the players and crowds of tennis fans home for their own safety.
2. Wimbledon 1999: When the ball boys built a complex tunnel system underneath the stadium
According to firsthand accounts, 1999 will always be the year that bystanders say the ball boys “just started digging,” and eventually, with their hive-mind mentality, were able to dig a complex tunnel system beneath the stadium that connected all 18 of the tournament’s grass courts. During a match between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, the Pack Leader reportedly let out a loud yelp, triggering several ball boys to dig a series of holes along the outer ring of the court, until a line judge mistakenly stepped in one and broke his ankle. Sensing his weakness and hunger from spending the day retrieving balls for players, the ball boys immediately abandoned their positions and dragged the injured, screaming employee across the grass and down into their complex set of tunnels, and he was never seen again. Fearing for their safety, Agassi, Sampras, and the remaining players dropped out of the tournament, ending that year’s tournament for good.
3. Wimbledon 1977: When the ball boys tried to mate with the ball girls
Wimbledon 1977 was the first tennis tournament to have ball girls. However, some believe that the inclusion of girls for the first time inadvertently triggered the ball boys to perform elaborate mating rituals that were highly disruptive to ongoing matches. Unfortunately for organizers, while the decision was originally hailed as inclusive, the Pack Leader quickly noticed that every single one of the new ball girls was in heat, and proceeded to hoarding equipment to try and impress them. According to firsthand accounts, after sprinting back and forth in a seductive fashion, the ball boys, brimming with hormones, eventually became territorial and attacked anyone they perceived as a threat, including tennis star Billie Jean King. After she got too close to a ball girl for a ball boy’s liking, the largest ball boy trapped her in the net at center court, where she remained stuck for hours. After King was injured in the incident, she sued Wimbledon, giving organizers no choice but to cancel the tournament.
4. Wimbledon 2012: “The Infestation”
“The Infestation,” or Wimbledon 2012, will, unfortunately, go down in history as the tournament where the ball boys and girls were asked to work during a night match, saw the moon for the first time, and subsequently, would not stop howling. At around 8 p.m., when the sun had finally set, all 250 ball boys and ball girls participating in the tournament simultaneously looked up at the sky, stopped catching balls, stood extremely still, and started chanting extremely loudly until tournament organizers closed the retractable roof, which angered the packs of ball boys and girls, who had begun to worship the moon as a god. Deprived of their new supreme lord, the throngs of 9- to 12-year-olds begin attacking fans, looking for a sacrifice to the moon that would make the roof open once more. Wimbledon authorities quickly opened the roof and ceded the stadium to the ball children, who for the next five months, used the structure as a monastery.
5. Wimbledon 2004: When the ball boys escaped
Sadly, the most devastating incident at Wimbledon involved the coordinated efforts of ball boys and ball girls using their pack mentality to stage a jaw-dropping escape in which they distracted organizers, ran from the tournament, and were never seen again. During a finals match between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the ball boys and ball girls found small holes within the stadium’s walls, and one by one slipped through them, balls in hand, before running into the woods and never turning back. Without anyone left to collect balls, organizers had no choice but to shut the tournament down. Thirteen years later, legend says that you can still find the ball boys and ball girls living in areas outside London, running back and forth in the woods, sprinting between the trees, passing balls to one another.
Wow. Should this ever happen again, we’re sure everyone at Wimbledon will have it under control! Come 2018, we’re sure the ball boys and girls will be properly inspected to make sure they are domesticated enough to keep the tournament running!