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Junior Tennis Champion Aims to Make History as Australian Open’s First Wheelchair BallKid

January 12, 2024 10:21 am in by

Sonny, who is only 11 years old, was diagnosed with multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, a rare genetic condition that affected the heads of his thigh bones, at the age of four.

He has participated in a pilot ballkid training program.

He has been working with tennis great Alicia Molik and assessor Diana Sutterby to learn how to use a ball-collection device called the “ball picker-upper” and enhance his agility skills.

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In an interview with The Age, Molik praised Sonny’s capabilities and dedication, stating that he is just as passionate as any other ballkid, if not more.

When asked why wheelchair ballkids are not yet a reality, despite wheelchair tennis being a mainstream and Olympic sport, Molik responded, “Maybe everyone assumed it wasn’t possible; no one really explored alternative options. However, with some foresight and effort, it could become a reality.”

Sonny is part of Tennis Australia’s National High Performance team in Melbourne and shares the same ambitions as other kids on the team and around the world.

During the program, Sonny and professional wheelchair tennis player Heath Davidson described the challenge that people in wheelchairs could face as they pick up and store balls while on the court.  

From there, it was determined 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. 

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To bring this to life, Mastercard worked with creative technology production company Streaker and disability consulting firm Get Skilled Access to design a solution that could support the experience for wheelchair users on the court. Together, a cutting-edge ball holder and collector was created specifically for wheelchair users. 

Brigham Glaser, Managing Director, Streaker, reflected on the journey: “From discovery calls where we understood what Sonny needed to help him collect and store balls, to sound boarding concepts with tennis players like Alicia Molik and Heath Davidson, we learned and evolved to create a concept that truly supports Sonny in the flow of the game. During the design phase, Sonny provided feedback on the initial design sketches and from there we progressed to testing it out on court where we landed on a final design that will be available to everyone.”   

Image: Supplied

Currently ranked 21 in the world for junior wheelchair tennis singles, Sonny is scheduled to participate in the Australian Open’s All Abilities Day and hopes to compete in a grand slam match.

He expressed his desire to inspire other kids and make them believe that nothing can crush their dreams and that anything is possible.

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“I just really want to inspire other kids, and make them feel like there is nothing crushing their dreams, and anything is possible.”

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