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Australian Open: Tennis in disbelief over image of ballkids drying court with towels

The Australian Open has electronic line judges and technology but this image has sparked more than a few raised eyebrows. Photo / Twitter

Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina is through to the Australian Open semi finals after a 6-2 6-4 win over Jelena Ostapenko but fans have been left stunned by a moment from the first set.

With Rybakina already up a break in the first set, a forecast shower hit Melbourne and forced the pair off the court for 25 minutes.

Rod Laver Arena was drenched and when the roof came over, it had to be dried.

We’re in a world where self-driving cars are on the horizon, AI runs most of our lives and there aren’t even linespeople at the Australian Open — they’ve been replaced by an electronic line judge.

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But instead of having a faster way of drying the court, instead the ballkids have once again come to the rescue, drying the court on their hands and knees with towels.

As the fact the ballkids are unpaid volunteers, particularly when there was a match that finished just after 4am and the ballkids are, well, kids, it once again highlights the issue.

Newscorp reported that Tennis Australia explained it was the fastest way to get play going.

Fans were perplexed however that this was indeed the fact in the year 2023.

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Controversy erupted earlier in the tournament when social media users discovered that the ballkids weren’t in fact paid for their work at the Australian Open.

Around 2500 kids apply to be ballkids every year, with less than one in five of them actually succeeding.

Those who make the cut are then working under strict conditions and under torrid weather conditions that Melbourne throws up in January.

A whopping prize pool of A$76.5 million ($82.7m) was on the table for those participating, up 3.4 per cent on 2022.

And it’s not like now ballkids get paid, Ballkids working at the US Open are paid US$15 per hour while at Wimbledon they’re given a flat rate of US$351 (around $380) per week.

The conditions were laid bare most obviously after the 4am finish in the five hour, 45 minute Andy Murray-Thanasi Kokkinakis epic.

After the match, three-time grand slam winner Murray declared: “If my child was a ball kid for a tournament, they’re coming home at 5am in the morning, as a parent, I’m snapping at that.

“It’s not beneficial for them. It’s not beneficial for the umpires, the officials. I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans. It’s not good for the players.

“We talk about it all the time. It’s been talked about for years. When you start the night matches late and have conditions like that, these things are going to happen.”

The Australian Open could have four semi-final debutants reach the final four on Tuesday at Melbourne Park.

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A number of shock upsets and exits has blown the men’s singles and women’s singles fields wide open and the door is open for fairytales to come true.

The Day 9 action is headlined by No 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas’ quarter-final against 21-year-old Jiri Lehecka.

The winner will play either 18th-seeded Russian Karen Khachanov or 29th-seeded American Sebastian Korda in the semi-finals.

In the women’s draw, No 3 seed Jessica Pegula, the highest-ranked player remaining, will be desperate to avoid becoming the latest surprise victim.

The American, whose billionaire parents own the Buffalo Bills in the NFL, is closing in on her first major title. But she must first overcome two-time Melbourne champion — and good friend — Victoria Azarenka in the last eight.

The winner will play reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the semi-finals.

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