Singer and songwriter Tania Doko reveals why tennis is the “rock and roll of sport” in our Celebrity Match series.
Tania Doko is an Australian music icon.
She is the lead singer of Bachelor Girl, a pop duo best known for their top-10 hit Buses and Trains, and an accomplished songwriter.
In our Celebrity Match series, Doko reveals her close connections to tennis and shares memories from her experience as an Australian Open ballkid …
Tell us about your tennis experience?
I’m such a big tennis fan. I was actually a ballkid at the Australian Open in 1989, the second year the tournament was played at Flinders Park (now known as Melbourne Park). I was 15 at the time. But even though I was one of the older kids, I was still shorter than everyone else!
What are your favourite memories from being an Australian Open ballkid?
It was just so exciting to be amongst it all, literally being on the court and getting a ground-level view of all the action. The best ballkids got allocated to the bigger courts and I got as high as Court 1 (now known as Margaret Court Arena). But I remember not having a great day that day, so then I got demoted back out to the outside courts. It didn’t matter though, because I just loved doing it, regardless of which court I was on.
One of the most distinctive memories is getting food vouchers. It was something crazy like $7 a day, but that could get you a donut, hot dog and a drink. You could buy quite a lot with those vouchers, which says a lot about inflation! Our lunch area was right near the players’ restaurant, so it was quite extraordinary to see who you could spot.
My other biggest memory is the heat on the court. It was just next level. We wore these Dunlop runners and had mats to stand on, which provided another layer between the court and your feet, but it was still so hot. One day I remember not wearing my hat and I ended up a red scalp.
Do you remember being a ballkid for any particular players?
I do remember distinctively being a ballkid for Australia’s Jason Stoltenberg. I got hit in the stomach by one of his serves! I wasn’t quick enough to get away. It’s a really awesome story now – but it wasn’t in the moment. Luckily, I lived to tell the tale.
Is that a story you tell often?
I’ve been riding off being an Australian Open ballkid for 30 years now. Having the ballkid experience has changed my view of tennis forever. Having that on-court experience, it is such a privileged view. Those were the days when the linespeople would get in trouble for getting line calls wrong, the pressure was so high. Being amongst all that drama was just so exciting. It was kind of like releasing music before the internet, I came through those ranks. I also came through tennis when there was no technology involved in umpiring.
Did you also play tennis growing up?
I did! I used to play for St Johns in East Bentleigh. I’d play every Saturday morning in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne. That’s how I ended up as a ballkid at the Australian Open. I saw a form about signing up and did the trials, then I got in. My height was probably the most impressive thing, as a ballkid you need to be discreet, so being small I was able to tick those boxes.
What is your earliest tennis memory?
My earliest memory is playing at the age of eight or nine. My dad was a really big tennis fan, so we’d often hit the ball around in the backyard. I also remember hitting against a wall in primary school. But I quickly realised Wimbledon was not going to happen for me, I was much better at singing and music.
Do you still play now?
I’m living in Northern New South Wales at the moment, where the weather is very conducive to playing tennis all year round. This interview has actually inspired me to get back out there and play soon!
You performed at Rod Laver Arena before the women’s singles final at Australian Open 2023, what was that experience like?
It was a beautiful full-circle moment. We had to squeeze in a sound check before the players came onto the court to warm up, so that was pretty crazy. I had a gig in Sydney the night before as well, so it was an early rise to race off to Melbourne. I was actually introduced as the lead singer of Bachelor Girl and a former Australian Open ballkid. I’m sure some people in the crowd were like ‘What, that’s kind of odd?’ But it’s nice to show we have lives outside of music and it’s important to have other experiences as they do feed every performance that you do. Being a former ballkid is a fact I love to share, I use it just as much as saying I have a degree in criminology and my father was Albanian!
Are there any tennis players you would love to have the opportunity to meet?
I would love to meet some of the Swedish tennis players, like Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander. In the late 80s to early 90s they were just so dominant. They were the tennis players that were my heroes. I’d love to know where they are now. I’ve since lived in Sweden and I married a Swede, so I now know we were all pronouncing their names wrong all of this time!
I also think Roger Federer would be extraordinary to meet. I’d like to meet Novak Djokovic too. I was actually in hotel quarantine at the same time when all the controversy about him entering Australia was going on. So, I feel some sort of connection there, plus our surnames are quite similar. We’re both from Balkan heritage. Whether you like Djokovic or not, it was a strange political time that tennis had never seen before. The fact he weathered that storm and he’s still fighting and playing, it shows remarkable strength.
Why do you think Australians enjoy tennis?
Melbourne is very AFL focused, while rugby is huge in New South Wales and Queensland. A sport like tennis is a great unifier. All sorts of people play tennis, from so many different walks of life.
Finally, can you please finish these sentences for us …
The best part of the Australian Open is … the excitement! I think it’s the rock and roll of sport. To me, it’s almost like a show. It’s dynamic. There’s highs and lows. Heart ache. I feel that tennis players always wear their hearts on their sleeves. It really is the rock and roll of all sporting events.
Tennis is fun because … when you’re playing singles, it’s incredible the amount that one needs to back themselves. A great match involves so many momentum swings. Doubles is fun too, because it shows the power of team work. I think the Special Ks – Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis – are wonderful to watch. They are extremely entertaining.
Book online, play today: Visit play.tennis.com.au to get out on court and have some fun!