The ATP Champions Tennis event is a chance for retired tennis greats like John McEnroe, Björn Borg, Goran Ivanišević and Andy Roddick to get back on the court for a low-stakes and entertaining tennis tournament. This year, it appears that the London stop on the tournament is going to the dogs.
Instead of having young kids grab tennis balls that have bounced out of bounds or collided with the net, specially trained dogs will fetch them during the Dec. 6-9 tournament at Royal Albert Hall.
Retired British tennis great Tim Henman oversaw the pups' training during the summer.
"It's been great fun giving the country's finest pups a lesson on how to become successful balldogs," Henman said in July. "Fingers crossed they will all be good enough to make the final cut and appear at this year's Champions Tennis event, as I'd love to play alongside them in December. The dogs' enthusiasm and desire to fetch would certainly make it even more of a fantastic spectacle, and no doubt they'd get more attention than the players!"
The Champions tour is an event noted more for its relaxed and lighthearted vibe than serious competition, and dogs fit right into that mold.
"Alongside the tennis we're always looking for ways to a bring a bit of humor to Champions Tennis," Charlie Grave from the Champions Tennis organization said, "and felt that introducing dogs at this year's event will bring a whole new dimension to the art of being a ball boy and girls and fits in to our ambition to bring a bit of fun to such an established sport."
This isn't the first time dogs have been used to help out on the tennis court. Shelter dogs have retrieved balls during the Brazil Open for a few years now.
The dogs selected for Champions Tennis won't go pro after the tournament, however. The ball dogs are all from Canine Partners, an organization that provides assistance dogs to those with disabilities.
"We are delighted to be given the opportunity to get involved with Champions Tennis this year," Nicola Martin from Canine Partners said in a statement. "Retrieving dropped items is just one of the hundreds of amazing things our dogs can do for people with disabilities.
"Our specially trained dogs bring greater independence and quality of life to their partners, offering security, companionship and practical help with everyday household tasks. They can even load and unload the washing machine and fetch help in an emergency. Not only will our involvement in this event be great fun for the audience, our handlers and the dogs too, but it will be great to showcase our charity and what our dogs do for disabled people in the U.K."
No word yet on how dog slobber affects bounce or top spin.