Belfast Telegraph

Andy Murray holds court with Northern Ireland ball team kids after stunning ATP World Tour triumph

By Steven Beacom

Two Northern Ireland teenagers have enjoyed the time of their lives as ball kids for the best tennis players in the world at the ATP World Tour finals in London.

Jessica Leeman from Belfast and Irvinestown's Kyran Maguire have been on duty for the past week at the 02 Arena for the end-of-season tournament, which culminated last night with the eagerly awaited final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic to decide who would end 2016 as the number one player on the planet.

The 16-year-olds, both promising tennis talents, were selected out of thousands of junior players across the UK and represented themselves, their families and the Ulster Tennis Academy with distinction at one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

Before the tournament Jessica, Kyran and the 28 other ball kids chosen spent a week training in Southampton.

They were prepared by Northern Ireland native and London-based tennis coach Mark Magrath.

For the action, the 30 children were split into five groups of six and were rotated every 40 minutes, which gave all those involved the chance to collect and provide balls to everyone playing at the World Tour finals in the singles and doubles.

Ulster Tennis Academy Head of Operations Stuart McQuitty, who works with Jessica and Kyran, said: "They have had the time of their lives at the World Tour finals.

"The training and work has been intense, but they have been doing themselves proud.

"They are good players with lots of potential and I know they will have got so much out of the experience watching great players like Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic close up.

"It's fantastic for the Ulster Tennis Academy to have two of our juniors at such a huge tournament.

"When the chance came along their parents were very good about it and their schools very accommodating. I'd also like to thank Mark Magrath for all the work he has put in with them.

"As well as being good at tennis, Jessica and Kyran are brilliant kids. Jess gives up her time to help out with younger players at the Academy. It is that sort of attitude that marks her out as a fine young woman who is a role model to all.

"She is exactly the sort of person any young girl should aspire to be: humble, dedicated and ambitious.

"Kyran travels every week from Irvinestown to spend his entire Saturday in Belfast or Lisburn, focusing on becoming as good a player as he can be.

"His determination and behaviour mark him out as an exceptional young man who has deserved this wonderful chance to mingle with the tennis elite."

Kyran is a member of Irvinestown Tennis club in Fermanagh, while Jessica is associated with Hawarden Tennis club in east Belfast.

Steven Leeman, dad of Jessica - who is Ulster's number one at under 18 level - joked: "Jessica is loving it. This week has gone so well she was thinking about having a career as a ball girl until we told her there was no money in it!

"She's had a great time. To be that close to her idols has made it an incredible experience.

"Jessica lives and breathes tennis. She is the most unbelievably hard worker you will ever meet and it was really good for her to get this chance, because it made her feel like all the hard work was starting to pay off. Jessica has been operating at the net, and at the change-arounds she has to stand in front of the players and get whatever drinks the players want. She says that the players are all lovely."

John Maguire, who is Kyran's father, said: "It has been a wonderful experience for Kyran. He has really enjoyed it and has learnt a great deal.

"I've been over all week and to see your son on the same court as players like Murray and Djokovic is just fantastic. It's amazing for Kyran to get an opportunity like this."

John, an accomplished tennis player himself, added: "Both Kyran and Jessica did extremely well and I'm sure they'll remember this for the rest of their lives."

See sport, Page 44

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