Story by Jasmine Goh/Red Sports. Photos by Lim Yong Teck/Red Sports
Singapore Indoor Stadium, October 20-26, 2014 — The best tennis players from around the world have not been the only ones in action at the BNP Paribas Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals. Forty-two ball kids from Singapore and across the region have also been scurrying around centre court while exercising their duties just mere metres away from Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and company.
A ball kid retrieves and supplies balls for players or officials to ensure the smooth progression of the games. Each of them receives the official tournament uniform, a certificate of appreciation, and a photograph with their tennis heroes.
The Singapore Ballkids Programme was jointly launched by the Sport Singapore (SportSG) and Singapore Tennis Association (STA) in March earlier this year. The programme offers young tennis enthusiasts in Singapore, aged between 13 to 16 years old, an unforgettable experience.
The official squad was selected after a six-month training programme, where they trained under coaches from Tennis Australia in two intensive camps in June and September.
“The coaches were very friendly and patient with us when we made mistakes,” said 15-year-old Winna Leow. The Tanjong Katong Girls’ School (TKGS) student was approached by her school and tennis coach to try out for the programme. She will be taking some of her GCE ‘O’ Level subjects later this year and highlighted that missing school during this period of time posed a challenge for her.
However, she added that she is grateful for the opportunity to share the limelight with the top female tennis players from around the world.
The same sentiments were shared by Mark Lim, a 14-year-old student from St. Patrick’s School and Nathalie Tan, 15, from CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh). Both students are actively involved in their school’s tennis team and expressed their interest in signing up for the trials when their teachers told them about it.
Nathalie said, “When the ball comes and you miss it, you wonder if the cameras would zoom in on your facial expression! It’s important for us to maintain a neutral expression on court so as to not take sides. You have to contain your smile even when you’re watching your idol up close in action.”
Agility, concentration, hand-eye coordination, and ball handling are just a few of the many skills that participants pick up through the structured programme. In the course of training, these ball kids also learnt to develop their mental strength in handling high pressure environments and working well in teams.
When asked to rate his experience on being a ball kid on a scale of 1 to 10, Mark exclaimed, “10!”
The Maria Sharapova fan hopes that he will be able to catch the best male tennis stars in action someday, particularly Swiss former world number one Roger Federer. “It’s so cool to watch them play,” he added.
Mark was one of the many ball kids who had to stay late during his shifts. As there is no time limit for a tennis match, the duration of the game depends on the pace of play and how tight the matches get. For example, the match between No.2 seed Maria Sharapova and No.6 seed Agnieszka Radwanska lasted a grueling three hours and 13 minutes.
Mark often had to take the MRT home by himself after he was done with his duties and would usually reach home past midnight. The 14-year-old is grateful that his parents and teachers are supportive of him joining the programme.
“Despite spending long hours training every Saturday morning under the hot sun, the experience is truly worthwhile,” said Nathalie. “I would do it all over again,” added the Genie Bouchard fan.
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