17 September, 2015
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals are almost upon us again, and Singapore is gearing up to welcome some of the world’s best tennis pros.
Among those in the midst of intense preparation are the Singapore Ballkids: a group of talented and dedicated school-going youths training to service the competitors during their matches.
Incepted for the 2014 WTA Finals, the Singapore Ballkids Programme is well into its second year now. Aided by training and grading advice from Tennis Australia (TA), the programme hopes to nurture the ballkids, with Singapore Tennis Association (STA) keen on developing subsequent batches on its own in the near future.
“We wanted to get some foreign expertise on how to run the programme effectively, train the trainers, and give us some insight on training. We’re looking to improve progressively and, hopefully, by next year, we can be self-reliant in terms of training. Of course, we still want to remain in contact with Tennis Australia [for exchange opportunities],” explained STA’s deputy general manager Wilson Tay, revealing that TA’s primary involvement this year was conducting a training camp for the ballkids.
Singapore Tennis Association's (STA) Deputy General Manager Wilson Tay explains that STA is learning how to run the ballkids programme effectively, train the trainers, and hopefully become self-reliant in terms of training by 2016. Photo: SportSG
Darren Sturgess, one of the TA coaches who was in Singapore for the camp, articulated similar sentiments on what they could offer: “I think that what we can provide would be years of experience running a tournament [the Australian Open], working with kids, and knowing the standards expected of one of the best tournaments in the world. As a result, we can share that knowledge with the trainers, Singapore Tennis, and the WTA Finals to have the best ballkids that they can in Singapore.”
TA certainly laid the groundwork for this year’s ballkids, beginning with STA’s own trainers. Matt Dutton, another of the TA coaches, commented: “Because we were here last year and we had the opportunity to train the trainers here, they learnt a lot, which they could then apply [and pass on]. So when we arrived, the kids were at a really good standard.”
It would certainly appear that STA will soon be ready to fulfil its dream of running the programme without external help, having trained its own batch of ball kids for the recent 28th SEA Games, adding yet another notch to its belt.
Darren Sturgess and Matt Dutton, coaches from Tennis Australia helping to run the ballkids programme, and sharing their experiences knowing the standards expected of the best tennis tournaments in the world. Photo: SportSG
Of course, much credit can also be attributed to the ballkids alumni, who had set the standard with stellar performances last year. Notably, the previous batch’s top two ballkids, Max Yeo and Nur Filza Mohamed Faizan, also earned the opportunity to service the players at this year’s Australian Open.
“The ballkids have become much faster in their roles. They’ve watched last year’s ballkids and this year, they have become much better. We have a few of them from last year who are still with us, so it’s [good for the others]. They can provide advice and help in training,” noted V.T. Rajah, chief trainer of the Singapore Ballkids programme.
Each new and improved batch, based on the foundations provided by TA, will boost not just the programme, but also the local tennis scene. Sharing his aspirations, Tay said: “[The alumni] can contribute to the Singapore Ballkids Programme as supervisors to assist with the training. For those who have exceeded the age group for ballkids, they can be part of other voluntary areas, such as the line umpires and court services.”
“Max and Filza, hopefully, after watching the top players, will be motivated to play more tennis and, maybe, we might get an international champion one day,” he added.
Around 40 of this current group of ballkids will be selected to service WTA Finals matches this October, so do look out for them and give them a hearty cheer for their efforts!