Mon, 01 Mar 2021

SYDNEY, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- When the Australian Open kicks off next month, it won't just be the world's greatest tennis players stepping onto the courts. Accompanying them will be a small army of 380 specially trained ball boys and girls critical to making the event run smoothly.

Organisers revealed Wednesday that this year's squad will be the largest ever, with training underway to ensure that, just like the players, the ballkids are at the top of their game.

"Usually we start training from about June to December, but this year we started training our ball kids squad two weeks ago. We've really had to focus out training sessions over the last few weeks to really pick out those critical skills given the short time frame," said Ballkids Program Manager Elise Mace.

"I'm really confident and it's been really encouraging to see how quickly the new ball kids have picked up the skills -- in such a short amount of time as well."

To help avoid the spread of COVID-19, this year ballkids won't be handling players' towels and drink bottles and will be split into three groups covering different sections of Melbourne Park to ensure social distancing.

For all their hard work the ballkids are rewarded with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see their heroes up close and be there when they make history at the first professional tournament of the year.

"I think it's a great experience and being able to meet some of our stars. I think is pretty cool as well," said first-time ballkid Poppy Dorhman.

Fellow first-timer Ferdinand Faeth agreed. "I just love tennis, I love going to the Australian Open every year, so it's cool to be up close to them."

Many of the ballkids are returning to the Australian Open looking to recapture old friendships and the excitement of being on court with the world watching.

"This will be my fourth year actually, I started when I was 12 and now I'm 17," said returning ballkid Dori Xu.

"It's a great atmosphere, it's nothing like we've ever felt before that and being on court close to the players makes it even better," added fellow returnee Riley Vawser.

"I'm just glad it's gone ahead and getting on court is definitely what I'm looking forward to."

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