By Jen Gourley
Every summer do you like to flick on the TV, a cool drink in your hand and watch the tennis? Out on the court you see the professional players, the umpires and other officials, and then there’s those kids whizzing around collecting balls and serving them to the competitors. They are called ballkids and they play an important role in making sure matches run smoothly.
One Biloela boy is currently going through the rigorous selection process to become a ballkid for the Australian Open 2023.
Tommy Hill, 11, loves his tennis so much that he applied online, along with more than 1500 children, to be ballkids next summer.
The local lad, who is in Year 6 and a school captain at Thangool State School, made the commitment to travel to Melbourne with his mum, Stacey, in early June for the first round of the Australian Open Ballkid Trials.
They flew to Melbourne on Friday, June 3, and the cold weather upon arrival sent them scurrying to purchase some warm coats.
“We had stopped at Mornington where the draught that went up the Main Street was so cold,” Stacey said. One of the locals told them that an arctic wind comes right up that street that gives the chill factor, hence why it felt so icy.
“It’s something you surely do get used to but as Queenslanders, we weren’t quite there yet.”
The trials were held on the Saturday at the local Dromana Tennis Club on the Mornington Peninsula where Tommy remembers how chilly it was waiting to go on court. But he also remembers what a fantastic experience it was.
“I met a lot of new people and it felt awesome being able to have an opportunity to do the trials,” he said.
He thought he went “pretty good”, and his Mum agreed.
“I think he did well,” Stacey said. “There would have been about 30 to 40 kids in his group – some really skilled kids and some kids that were new to it, Tommy was one of those.
“I think he may have travelled the farthest of that particular group.”
It was a long way to travel but it’s not just a matter of turning up in Melbourne to try out to be a ballkid. There’s actually a lot more to it.
After Tommy’s application was submitted, he had nine learning modules to complete.
“The modules teach them techniques of how to roll a ball and service the players, the ins and outs of what ball kids are responsible for, the rules, where they can stand, all those little bits and pieces that you actually take for granted watching them on TV,” Stacey said.
“You get a really big appreciation for what they actually do once you understand the background and all the practice.”
Tommy was also sent drills to practise so he and his Mum would spend afternoons at the local tennis courts in Biloela working on them.
The level one trial that Tommy attended in Melbourne was one of two trials.
Ballkids that are selected from this trial will head to the Level 2 trial. The children that tried out were told there was no specific number that would be taken through to the next round. The kids that would go through were those that did well on the day. The Level 2 trial, where the ballkid team will be selected, will be held at the Australian Tennis Centre, Melbourne, in July.
Tommy has been playing tennis for about six or seven years and it’s his favourite sport. He said to actually be part of the Australian Open would mean a lot to him.
“I’d get to watch in person what the professional tennis players do,” he said. “It would be a really good experience.”
Asked who his favourite tennis player is, he said without hesitation, “Ash.” (Ash Barty, a fellow Queenslander and former World No.1.)
Tommy plays in the Central Region Junior Development Series and is coached by Biloela’s Helan Ambrey.
He has also started playing in some Southeast Queensland competitions to build up his experience.
Tommy spends a lot of time practising and playing tennis and he also helps some of the younger children on the tennis court.
“Helan developed a scholarship program for a group of local boys and girls this year and Tommy was one of the recipients of that scholarship,” Stacey said. “With Helan’s guidance, participation in the program and mentoring some of the younger players, he has gained the confidence to have a go at these types of opportunities.”
In some exciting news, Tommy just found out today that he has made it to the next round of the ballkid trials.
Congratulations Tommy and well deserved for all your commitment and dedication to tennis. All the best for Round 2!