December 8, 2021

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Pandemic re-sked means severe ball kids shortage

ball kids

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The sudoku that is putting together the early 2021 schedule on the ATP and WTA Tours is enough of a challenge.

But a side issue is popping up because of the last-minute nature of some events, and the rescheduling of others. The new timelines mean the supply of ball kids is going to be yet another problem to solve.

You can have automatic line calling, if you can afford it. But no one, as yet, has been able to engineer automatic ball picker-uppers.

We wrote here about the fact that the WTA Tour was planning on having a 500-level tournament in Abu Dhabi the first week of January.

The event is not officially confirmed. But it has less than three weeks to organize. And ball kids are a big problem.

2021 sked in dribs and drabs

It feels like the ATP and WTA (perhaps in tandem, perhaps not) want to release the early 2021 schedule in some sort of coordinated fashion.

But that’s not going to happen for at least a few more days. Open Court is told that the ATP Tour players were notified over the weekend that nothing is yet confirmed. The Tour has scheduled a call with its players for Monday.

Tweets from the Delray Beach Open in Florida indicated the tournament will go forward the same week as the Abu Dhabi tournament. But those Tweets were posted – and quickly deleted – on Friday.

The Abu Dhabi tournament, which has to be put together on an accelerated time table and will be held at Zayed Sports City, is scrambling.

The most that city has ever had is a three day, six-man exhibition event around the same time of year. And it’s not exactly tennis central.

The Gulf News reports that the call has gone out.

Un unnamed official from the Abu Dhabi organizing committee told Gulf News that it’s going to be a challenge.

“We have just started midterm vacations for schools in the UAE. So getting the required 140-odd ball kids from schools will be next to impossible during this period in the first half of January. The second option will be to try and bring ball kids through personal contacts and through tennis academies in other parts of the country. We have been trying our best to come to a solution in this regard,” the person said.

(Notably, that official told the newspaper that the tournament will be a “closed-door” event. That’s all we really know about it so far).

School is back in session there on Jan. 3.

Some 140 ball kids needed – in Abu Dhabi alone

“The idea at the moment is to double the numbers of ball kids to be hired, so they can work on alternate days at the tournament. And that seems to be one of the options,” the unnamed official said.

Information and applications were to be sent to all clubs and tennis academies in the area beginning Sunday.

The other challenge is that – potentially – the Australian Open will hold its qualifying in Dubai the same week. Dubai is a little over an hour’s drive up the Persian Gulf coast. And that event also would require a whole lot of ball kids.

It’s hard to fathom where the region will come up with some 300 kids who have a little experience, out of nowhere. But in the grand scheme of things … the players could help and pick up their own balls.

Ball kids also scarce in Delray Beach

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The Delray Beach Open will also look to recruit ball kids even if they’re already back to school (photo: Delray Beach Open website)

The same issue will have to be resolved in Delray Beach, where school – even if many kids are virtual learning – is due back in session Jan. 4.

When the 2021 tournament was in February, it scheduled training sessions for next Sunday (the 20th) and the Sunday after that. If that holds – and there aren’t any other days left – that would leave them … a week before the tournament this year.

Then again, that tournament faces a similar problem even in non-pandemic times, when the tournament is held in mid-February.

The US Open, which doesn’t age-discriminate with its “ball kids”, has all kinds.

Australian Open also will scramble

The long-held time slot for the first Grand Slam of the season has long been considered immovable, for several reasons.

The biggest reason is that it comes at the tail end of the summer break for students. Many of the potential volunteers and fans are also on holiday.

So all the kids have plenty of time for training. And there’s no shortage of kids.

For the 2020 Australian summer, there was a total of 360 ball kids. At most of the other events the age limit was stretched beyond the maximum at the Australian Open, which was 15.

ball kids
The fact that the 2021 Australian Open won’t be held during school holidays is going to mean a big push to try to recruit a Grand Slam-sized corps of ball kids. (Stephanie Myles-OpenCourt.ca/wordpress)

The other element of the crew are the number of international kids who earn the right to tote balls and towels in Melbourne.

Among the crew, there were 38: 20 from Korea, six from China, 10 from India and two from France.

Calling all ball kids – experience welcome!

Meanwhile, the deadline for applications for the 2021 tournaments came and went a long time ago.

A Tennis Australia spokeswoman told the Herald Sun a few weeks ago that the 2020 kids, who have experience, were being contacted.

“They’re all experienced, they’ve all been through it before. So it’s actually just a matter of bringing them back to do their usual training … there will be no mass selection trial,” she said.

Those who have aged out, and might be in university at this point, might end up getting the call.