Former Croatian tennis star-turned-coach Ivan Ljubicic has lamented the absence of ball boys and ball girls in the ongoing qualification matches for the Australian Open 2021.
Ljubicic, who currently coaches 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, said the absence of ball kids has made him realize and appreciate the crucial role they play in keeping the flow of a tennis match undisturbed.
Sharing his thoughts on Twitter, Ljubicic, who also runs a sports management firm on the side, wrote, “So sad to see AO21 qualification matches being played without ballkids.”
The decision to keep ball kids away from the Australian Open qualifiers has been taken as part of measures to keep the tournament Covid-free.
Normality will be restored in the tournament once ball boys and ball girls will return during matches in the men’s and women’s draw.
Ljubicic said it is an unfamiliar sight to see qualifiers being played without ball kids as they are a crucial cog in ensuring a hitch-free game.
“…makes us appreciate even more the work kids do for players in normal circumstances and how much they help the rhythm of the game,” Ljubicic wrote.
The event last year featured 360 ball kids, who were selected from among 2,500 applicants. As many 38 of them were from overseas countries.
The year’s first Grand Slam will be staged within the safe environs of a bio-bubble and as part of the protocol announced for the event, the players would have to observe 14 days of hard quarantine.
During the mandatory isolation period, the players won’t have the liberty to go anywhere apart from their hotel rooms and practice/training facilities.
In another revolutionary step, the tournament organizers have decided to introduce the Hawk-Eye technology for line calls.
The technology was successfully put to use at the US Open last year in all the courts, barring the two main ones (the Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium).
The demand for a similar rollout at the Rod Laver Arena was initially put forward by 17-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic after he was disqualified in the fourth round of the US Open for accidentally striking a judge with a tennis ball.
The technology, it is said, will also take away the element of human error from line calls.