Inner sanctum

I am at the Australian Open. I’m not playing. (One day?) But it’s the next best thing when you’re fifteen and love tennis.

Djokovic v Wawrinka! I never thought that I’d be able to be a ballkid for a match of this stature. As I was waiting in the corridor before I was about to go on, I was nervous. This was my last ever match, my last opportunity to don the burnt orange legionnaires hat on court. However, any despondent thoughts were drowned out by the excitement I was about to witness. When I found out at 2:00pm I was ball-kidding this match, I was very excited to say the least, but when I was about to step on court, I was still very excited, but also nervous. I kept thinking to myself that I would make a mistake, that I would do something drastically bad in front of the whole stadium and millions of viewers around the world. As Djokovic won his service game to go up 3-2, our squad went on. I had been on Rod Laver Arena a few times before, but none of those occasions were a Grand Slam semi-final. None of those occasions had the atmosphere like this… As I walked out onto Rod Laver Arena, the butterflies disappeared and were replaced with adrenalin.

 

The moment you enter the arena,that adrenalin turns on your A game. Even during the change of ends, the crowd is loud, but when Wawrinka hits a stunning backhand down the line, the crowd turns thunderous; the roar is just deafening and makes you speechless. As you walk down the side of the court, you notice the players, the chair umpire and the various staff who are all wearing Lacoste polo’s in a variety of colours. I walk down to my end, I see Rod Laver in the stands. “Does he get a free ticket whenever he wants? “ I wonder as I round the baseline and start walking to where I will stand for the next hour. As I put my drink bottle down, I cast my eyes around the arena. 15,000 people (give or take a few,) creating an awesome atmosphere and two of the best players in the world slugging it out for a place in the Australian Open final. ”Can it get any better?”

 

Being an Australian Open Ballkid was the experience of a lifetime and one that I won’t forget easily. Over 2,000 kids applied and that had to be whittled down to 380 for the tournament. Since I had been a ballkid for the past two years, I was able to pass Level One and skip to the Level Two trials. The Level Two trials involved 700 kids, but only 500 got through to the “Train On squad.” Although I had done thistwice before, it was still an exhausting two hours. The next day, I could barely walk and only five days after that did I feel normal again!

 

After the Level Two trials, I was selected into the Train-On squad. This involved five training sessions over a period of two and a half months, before the Main Squad was decided. Usually during these sessions, we would ballkid practice hitters and sometimes even the supervisors. After these sessions, the 500 Ballkids were cut down to 380 for the Open. I was lucky enough to be part of the chosen few. We then were Ballkids for the December Showdown, (which is where 16 players battle it out for a wildcard into the maindraw.) Finally, after six months, we were ready for the main event.

 

During the tournament, I watched a lot of tennis, but one match stood out from the rest.  The Andy Murray- Grigor Dimitrov match on Rod Laver Arena.  This was a rematch of the Wimbledon quarterfinal in 2014 where Dimitrov crushed Murray in straight sets. It was as if the loss was still raw with Murray as he bulliedDimitrov around the court in the first set with pulsating tennis. Murray clinches it with a booming serve that clips the line. Dimitrov is starting to turn his talent into results, pushes Murray to the limit in the second. Grinding each other down, it takes a special moment from Dimitrov to get the momentum. The roar from the crowd when after a twenty shot rally, Dimitrov smashes a backhand down the line for a winner, was unbelievable. Dimitrov who by now is playing like a man possessed, takes the second set with a Murray error and he is pleased. So pleased in fact, that he roars in triumph! The third set is dull and Murray easily takes it 6-3. In the fourth, I had a, “five seconds in fame” moment (every ballkid has one!). Dimitrov was 5-2 up in the fourth set and had set point, but Murray, the fighter he is, clawed his way back, punishing a sloppy Dimitrov who had taken his foot off the gas. He forces the match to five all. Dimitrov, who is serving to go 6-5 up, falls behind a break and promptly smashes his racquet. I was the unfortunate Ballkid that had to give him his towel….

 

I went up to him, holding out the towel so that he could drape it over his arm and walk to his chair. Instead of doing that however, he ripped the handle off his racquet. “What have I got myself into?” I thought as I still held out the towel and he kept walking. Eventually, someone had to give and it was me. I sprinted to his chair, dropped the towel on it and sprinted back to my position (the whole thing is on YouTube if you want to see it!) Although this was pretty scary experience, these were the surreal moments that I loved about being a ballkid. The feeling that you were there with the top players, on a centre court of a Grand Slam, it’s a pretty cool feeling and a memory that you treasure.

 

However, it wasn’t just Rod Laver Arena I was a ballkid on. (How good would that have been though?) For two days, on Court 10, I had the opportunity to witness Wheelchair tennis. I found this spectacle absolutely fascinating to watch especially one of the players, Lucas Sithole. Lucas Sithole is remarkable. In 1998, he lost both of his legs, and his right arm in a train accident. Picking up a racquet for the first time in 2005, seven years later he had won his first Grand Slam at the US Open. So when I watched him play, I was taken aback. Even though he was beaten, the match was a victory for tennis and a real eye-opener for me.

 

Looking back on my experiences, ball-kidding was an opportunity that will never happen again as I will be too old next time the Open comes to town. I’m thinking of working at the Open again next year in some other sort of capacity, but I will miss those damn legionnaires hats…

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Ripper stuff Max. Congrats on a great tournament, looks like you got to experience some great matches – that Murray/Dimitrov was a corker!
    As an older ballkid myself your words made me recall those special times, my advice: Savour it!

    Are you able to ballkid again next year? Or will you be placed into involuntary retirement?

  2. Max Wiggins says

    Hi Cobba,

    Yes, my swansong was the semi-final this year. I think it is for the best though as I would be too tall to be a Ballkid next year!

    Max

  3. Great reading Max. That adrenaline rush as the crowd gets involved sounds pretty powerful!

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great work Max, Would love to see the youtube clip. Is there a link?

  5. Max Wiggins says
  6. Thanks for that story, Max. Excellent stuff.

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