The ball kid behind the viral photo during Naomi Osaka's incredible Australian Open title celebration has revealed the unlikely story to how she returned to Melbourne Park during the coronavirus pandemic.
Osaka stole the show at Melbourne Park after an incredible display against Jennifer Brady to claim her second Australian Open title in barnstorming fashion.
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But a photo, from Getty Images photographer Quinn Rooney captured the moment, earned a heartwarming reaction from fans as well.
Osaka was aware of the photo and tweeted her admiration for the beautiful shot, which amassed more than 74,000 likes.
"Was looking at pics from AO and I just noticed the ballgirl in this," she wrote.
Was looking at pics from AO and I just noticed the ballgirl in this 👋🏾🥺❤️ hi pic.twitter.com/7SHNKQdKqg
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) February 25, 2021
But the 15-year-old ball kid in the photo, Marle van der Merwe, has now revealed the unlikely twist of fate that allowed her to take part in the Australian Open.
At the age of 15, van der Merwe was too old to be taking part at the Australian Open as a ball kid.
this is so wholesome 🥺❤️
— sarah harris 💙 (@SarahHarris249) February 25, 2021
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Australian Open opted to bring back ball kids from the previous year instead of training new kids.
“They weren’t able to train any new ballkids because of COVID so they got some of the older kids back and I was one of them, so I got another chance,” she told the Herald Sun.
She told ABC that it was a last minute decision to take up the role.
“I wasn’t going to do it because of school but last-minute I decided to do it,” she said.
“I couldn’t pass it up. I decided to do it and it led to this (Osaka photo)."
The teenager admitted she was secretly going for Osaka, but maintained her professionalism during the match.
Osaka's new look after Aus Open win
The triumph was her fourth grand slam title and cemented her status as the new queen of women's tennis.
But its not just her actions on the tennis court that have fans in a frenzy.
Osaka stunned her followers on Friday when she posted a photo on Twitter showing her with long pink hair.
The new look is strikingly different to her usual brown, curly hair, although Osaka didn't clarify whether or not it was a wig.
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