Andy Murray says he would 'snap' if he was the parent of a ball kid coming home in the early hours of the morning, after his five-set epic against Thanasi Kokkinakis got started at 10pm on Thursday. Murray was only able to get the better of the Australian hopeful at 4.05am on Friday.
The incredibly late finish, along with several others sparked by rain and heat delays earlier in the week, has sparked calls for Australian Open ball kids to be paid for their work. Children working at the grand slam were previously paid, until they were re-classified as volunteers in 2008.
The 4am finish was the second-latest in Australian Open history, and renewed calls for the roughly 2500 ball kids to earn some money for their work, particularly when obliged to work into the early hours of the morning. Fans have been left outraged by the revelation that the kids work for free, with some labelling it 'disgusting'.
Murray was critical of the scheduling, saying not only were the ball kids and players left at a disadvantage, it was hardly a positive for fans and officials either. Fans set up a GoFundMe page for the ball kids as the Murray-Kokkinakis match was nearing an end, while the record prize pool for the 2023 tournament has also lead to growing calls for ball kids to be compensated. Many were sympathetic to the kids on court as the five-set epic continued on.
“I don’t know who (the 10pm start is) beneficial for. We come here (to a press conference) after the match, and that’s what discussion is. Rather than it being like epic Murray-Kokkinakis match, it ends in a bit of a farce,” Murray said.
“Amazingly people stayed until the end. I really appreciate people doing that, creating an atmosphere for us at the end. I really appreciate that. Some people need to work the following day and everything.
“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 spoken about for years. When you start the night matches late and have conditions like that, these things are going to happen.”
Australian Open won't change 2023 schedule to avoid late matches
Tennis Australia offers its ball kids a gift bag and food allowance for the two-week event at Melbourne Park, however there is no monetary compensation. They were previously paid $40 until Tennis Australia reclassified the job in 2008 and made it a volunteer position.
Speaking on Channel 7 on Wednesday, journalist Justin Smith said: “Are we in a Dickens novel or something? Come on. Pay the kids. I’m shocked that they didn’t pay them. I think it devalues them appallingly. They should start forking out as soon as possible ... I really do, it’s devaluing them.”
Amanda Rose, a broadcaster and founding director of advocacy group 'Western Sydney Women', added: “Essentially, I think it conditions children at a young age that the experience is worth more than being paid. For girls in particular, I think it’s really important to actually say, ‘no, (we’re) worth this money .... It’s not a charity event."
But Australian Open organiser Craig Tiley ruled out any adjustments mid-tournament, either via a curfew or by shuffling matches around. "At this point, there's no need to alter the schedule," he told the Nine Network.
"We will always look at it when we do the (post-tournament) debrief, like we do every year. But at this point ... we've got to fit those matches in the 14 days so you don't have many options.
"Over the last three days, we've had extreme heat, over five breaks of rain, we've had cold ... we've had three late nights with scheduling to try and catch up with matches."
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