The courts were silent, save for the satisfying thuds resonating all around. Powerful swings sent balls flying in neat and precise arcs, undeterred by the presence of spectators. Besides the players, lining each court were six others, scanning the game intently, ever-ready to begin their clockwork-like process of picking, passing, and feeding the balls.
Meet the Tennis Ball kids.
Ball kids with their supervisor during WTA Finals (Photo by Philip Au/Sport Singapore)
They are energetic teenagers aged 13 to 16. Ball kids aren’t just youths who scramble after balls during a match; most are trained tennis players who have a thorough understanding of the game.
It is a highly demanding role, to serve the WTA players who are competing here in Singapore at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. These 42 precocious young players are keenly aware of their responsibilities, having been shortlisted from Singapore Ball kids Programme co-owned by Sport Singapore and the Singapore Tennis Association.
During a training session as the ball kids prepare for the WTA Finals Singapore.
Since the programme was launched in March 2014, the ball kids have been learning to roll and pass balls swiftly and accurately, feed them to the players, and hold out towels at appropriate moments.
More than just training ball kids for local and international tennis events, the programme seeks to inspire Singapore’s next generation of tennis players. After all, top international players such as Victoria Azarenka and Roger Federer did start out as ball kids in their youth.
Nathalie Tan and Nur Filza Mohamed Faizan, both 15, have been playing tennis for eight and five years respectively. Both are eager to make good use of the Singapore Ballkids Programme to enrich their sporting paths.
Having undergone several trials and intensive training camps that involved coaching and grading by representatives from Tennis Australia, the onus was on them to learn as much as they could.
“We had to be present daily so that we don’t lose points for attendance,” said Nathalie, who had to juggle her school commitments with the week-long training camps. Filza, too, recognises the sheer scale of the event and is training hard because “This is such a big event for tennis. Everyone will be watching”, she shares.
Anastasia Lim, the only non-tennis player out of the ball kids, has also been trying her best to learn the sport. She is, however, an athlete all the same - a sprinter from the Singapore Sports School - with a strong interest in all kinds of sports.
“I like tennis, and I’d rather learn the game through my own experiences than searching about it on the Internet,” said the 16 year-old.
Ball kids handing towel to WTA Finalist Ana Ivanovic (currently ranked World No.5) during a game. (Photo by Alexander Leong/Sport Singapore)
Evidently, knowing how to play tennis is not a pre-requisite to being a ball kid. More importantly, ball kids should have good hand-eye coordination, a strong ball sense and be quick on their feet. Understanding the rules and format of the game is also a must. Anastasia makes up for her inexperience by constantly clarifying her doubts with instructors, as she feels the pressure to be the perfect ball kid to the WTA players.
Nathalie echoed similar concerns, “I will feel bad if I make mistakes because the players will not be able to play their game optimally. If I do not perform my duties well, it might affect their chances of winning.”
So how do they deal with the pressure, besides relying on professional advice from their instructors?
“Discipline. You have to be focused and there are rules that you have to follow or you will mess up the game,” reflected Nathalie.
Filza added that good teamwork and trust is equally important, “There are six ball kids per court. So we have to work well with each other. If one person makes a mistake, the others will have to help out.”
It is apparent that these competent and enthusiastic young players are poised to put on a dedicated performance at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
The Singapore Ball kids Programme is now recruiting ball kids and ball kid trainers for 2015. For more information, please visit www.singtennis.org.sg
Tennis ball kid hard at work during a WTA Rising Stars match (Photo by Calvin Teoh/Sport Singapore)