Heads or tails?
For most players it is a call they make in a split second, a quick way to determine whether they will serve or receive first in a match. But for many of the people lucky enough to get to toss a coin at a Grand Slam tournament match, it is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk onto a tennis court surrounded by fans and get close to players they had only ever dreamed of meeting.
A select group of people have had this experience so far at Australian Open 2014, including nine year-old Jemma Gossow and 67 year-old Owen Dennis, who, until this week had never set foot inside Melbourne Park, let alone Rod Laver Arena.
Gossow, from Palmerston in the Northern Territory, tossed the coin for the third round match between men’s third seed David Ferrer and 29th seed Jeremy Chardy on Friday.
“It was scary but so cool,” Gossow said of the experience, which included walking past women’s world No.1 Serena Williams on her way onto court. “The arena is so big.”
Gossow was invited to toss the coin as recognition for being the highest individual points scorer in the AO Blitz competition. She managed to raise more than AU$6000 for charity through the competition by waxing her father’s legs.
Dennis’ chance to toss the coin at Rod Laver Arena this week was also an AO Blitz prize. He is a volunteer grounds keeper at the Gunnedah Tennis Club in New South Wales and was named Australia’s ANZ Local Hero in the competition.
The prize saw him spend two days at the Australian Open and toss the coin for the second round match between world No.1 Rafael Nadal and young Australian player Thanasi Kokkinakis.
“It was awesome,” Dennis said of the experience. “Nadal is the one player I really wanted to see and he was totally down-to-earth, there was no nose up or anything like that.”
Dennis is still an active player at 67 and was excited to be at his first Australian Open, admitting he was surprised by the size of Melbourne Park and all the activities throughout the grounds.
“I have never been to any big tennis tournament, let alone an Australian Open,” Dennis said. “I imagined it would be good, but it has been even better than I thought it would be.”
AO Blitz spokewswoman Karen Clydesdale said seeing individuals like Gossow and Dennis get such experiences was rewarding for all involved in the AO Blitz, a new online interactive competition held in the lead-up to the 2014 Australian Open.
“The competition was all about engaging communities all over the country and getting involved at a grass roots level. For Owen and Gemma to have such amazing experiences highlights the impact it has had. Both are inspirational people and so deserving of the opportunity they both got this week,” she said.
Learn more about the AO Blitz competition at www.aoblitz.com.au.