Australia’s first wheelchair ballkid pilot program launched with junior wheelchair tennis champion Sonny Rennison the inaugural participant, with hopes of making one of the most iconic roles in tennis more accessible.
“I have never seen a wheelchair ballkid before, so I thought it would never happen which made me sad when I was younger”, the 11-year-old said. “I am excited and thankful to have this opportunity and hopefully encourage other kids in wheelchairs who might want to be ballkids but didn’t think they could, like me.”
Guiding Sonny’s training was Paralympian wheelchair tennis player Heath Davidson and ballkid assessor Diana Sutterby. The training occurred alongside five experienced ballkids, each with major tournament experience, covering all aspects of regular procedures including how to communicate on court, rolling techniques, court movement and how to best service players during a match.
At age six, Sonny was diagnosed with a rare genetic bone condition, multiple epiphyseal dysplasia that caused deterioration of his thigh bones. He was inspired to take up tennis when he was five after watching Dylan Allcott and Davidson play at an Australian Open match.
To create the pilot program, Australian Open partner Mastercard connected with Grand Slam trainers, and current and former world ranked players. It was decided that Sonny would benefit from a device to help him collect the balls at ground level and store them while he undertook his ballkid duties on court.
Former professional tennis champion Alicia Molik said: “Throughout my career, I’ve played many Grand Slams and serviced by many ballkids and Sonny really shone out there. The simulation match flowed, he was accurate, considered, and just had a lot of fun and smiles. There is so much potential in the future to make this a reality”.
Mastercard and its partners have made the ball collector, holder and learnings from the pilot available to tournament organisers and tennis fans globally and for anyone with a 3D printer to produce the technology. The files are available via www.priceless.com/australianopen2024
Photo: Heath Davidson, Diane Sutterby, Alicia Molik and Sonny Rennison