Australian Open: Social media outrage over ballkids mopping court after downpour at Rod Laver Arena

Social media has exploded with incredulous outrage at the sight of Australian Open ballkids on hands and knees, hand-drying a rain-sodden court with towels at Melbourne.

When a sudden downpour interrupted the opening set of the Elena Rybakina-Jelena Ostapenko women's quarter-final, organisers needed several minutes to close the roof at Rod Laver Arena.

With puddles covering the court, ballkids were enlisted to mop up the water, causing disbelief among onlookers.

Ballkids drying Rod Laver Arena court after rain
Ballkids drying Rod Laver Arena court after rain. Photo credit: Getty Images

This year's Australian Open is the first Grand Slam tournament to eliminate line judges, replacing them with electronic line calling. Hawkeye technology now enables players to challenge line calls within millimetres of accuracy... but this is best we can manage to dry a tennis court? 

"This needs to be spoken about and addressed," tweeted one onlooker. "It's appalling to see this as a live audience - a better solution is needed."

"I do not understand it," posted another. "I know something has been invented for this exact task."

In fact, there are better ways of drying a tennis court and these were produced moments later, after the ballkids had done the best they could with their towels.

Even a retractable roof isn't enough to overcome the weather, although many wondered how organisers were caught by surprise, when showers were forecast for several hours before.

Earlier this month, Auckland's ASB Classic tournaments were plagued by rain, prompting calls to prioritise covering the Stanley Street facility. 

Local organisers also employed the hand-towel technique to mop up between showers.

Working conditions for Australian Open ballkids have already come under scrutiny, with the discovery they are not paid for their services, but provide them purely through their love of the game, while Wimbledon and US Open counterparts are financially rewarded. 

Aged between 12-15, ballkids at Melbourne tend to be younger than their British or American equivalents.

The average age at Wimbledon is 15, while there is now age limit at Flushing Meadow, where Harry Villarreal debuted as a 14-year-old in 1989 and returned for the next 33 years.

Living legend Andy Murray spared a thought for the ballkids, after he and Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis played a 5h 45m marathan that ended at 4am.

"If my child was a ballkid for a tournament and 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."

Which was probably his main point...