There was a collective “awww” on Twitter when Naomi Osaka gave a sweet shout out to the ball girl at her final match at the Australian Open.
The tennis star, who defeated No. 22 seed Jennifer Brady in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, in the women’s final in Melbourne, shared a photo on Twitter that captured the ball girl’s beaming smile at the winning moment.
“Was looking at pics from AO and I just noticed the ballgirl in this,” Osaka captioned the image. “Hi.”
The winning smile, captured by Australian photographer Quinn Rooney from Getty Images, has gone viral.
The ABC’s ‘News breakfast’ tracked down Marle van der Merwe — the teenager who shared the delightful grin — who said she didn’t know about the tweet until her mum told her.
“Yesterday, my mum sent me a link to the Twitter and I was with my friends at the time and I was just very shocked,” she told the program. “And excited.”
Van der Merwe said that, while she was secretly rooting for Osaka, she would have “still been smiling” if Brady won.
“The whole ball kid experience, that’s like life, you’ll never forget it,” she added.
The moment melted some hearts on Twitter:
The Australian Open finished on Feb. 20, after an unprecedented string of events threatened to hamper the COVID-era tournament.
In a project unique in the annals of sport, more than 1,000 players and support staff were flown to Australia on charter flights from around the world and quarantined for 14 days from mid-January. After sharing a plane with passengers who tested positive for COVID-19, more than 70 players had to endure a hard hotel lockdown for two weeks, during which they were not allowed out of their hotel rooms to train, prompting an outpouring of complaints from players.
Melbourne endured one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world and has all but eradicated community transmission of COVID-19.
Tournament director Craig Tiley and his Tennis Australia team faced down sizable odds to get the tournament up and running, albeit by the skin of their teeth at times, while much of the world continues to deal with COVID-19 cases.
“At the beginning, I think there were many people who doubted we could pull it off,” Tiley told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.
“We can look back on it now as a highly successful event in the circumstances. I believe in the coming month, there will be a realisation of the extent of what we managed to achieve in pulling off what we did.”
The tournament survived the infection of one of the quarantine hotel workers only five days before it was due to start, but only after everyone in the tennis cohort had been tested again.
Crowds were present for just five days of action until Victoria went into a snap lockdown in response to a small outbreak the U.K. variant of the virus.
The fans returned in reduced numbers from last Thursday and were present in sufficient numbers to create a typical tournament atmosphere at the weekend’s finals.
With additional files from Reuters.