Little 'Kiki' steals the spotlight at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

The seven-year-old revelled in her role as 'player mascot' as she held hands with 'kind' Anna Kalinskaya during the opening ceremony for the women's final


Leslie Wilson Jr

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(From right) Anna Kalinskaya, Akira ‘Kiki’ Meenaghan, Thainá Roveratt and Jasmine Paolini. — Supplied photo
(From right) Anna Kalinskaya, Akira ‘Kiki’ Meenaghan, Thainá Roveratt and Jasmine Paolini. — Supplied photo

Published: Sun 25 Feb 2024, 8:44 PM

Last updated: Sun 25 Feb 2024, 10:57 PM

The artificial fire lights that were triggered off on Centre Court before the start of the women’s final in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships may have startled little ‘Kiki’ a bit, but not even that could douse the exhilaration she was experiencing standing and holding hands with Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya as the UAE National Anthem filled the air.

Just seven, Aquira ‘Kiki’ Modesto Meenaghan made her dream debut as a ‘player mascot’ as part of an initiative by the organisers of the tournament.

She was joined by her friend, 11-year-old Thainá Roveratti, who was Jasmine Paolini’s mascot for Dubai's annual tennis showpiece finale.

Speaking about the experience little Kiki said: “I was a bit shy and when I got into the Centre Court I was embarrassed but also happy. I also got a bit scared when the fireworks started.”

As the opening ceremony continued the star-struck Kiki appeared to get more comfortable being in the spotlight as she soaked in the electric atmosphere and was seen flashing innocent smiles all around the court.

Kiki described Kalinskaya, who lost the final to Paolini, as being ‘very kind’ and easy to be with.

“She even asked my name and I wished her good luck,” said the spirited seven-year-old.

You couldn’t help but want to know if the whole experience would have an impact on her future and if she would want to play tennis.

Kiki had the answer.

“I like how the ball bounces,” she said. “I like also to hit balls. I have tried it a bit and I think I can do it.”

Since the tradition of ‘player mascots’ began decades ago, having been borrowed from football, many kids dream of walking on to the court with a pro.

You could probably ask Roger Federer how he felt when he was a ball kid before becoming one of the sport’s greatest players.

The organisers of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships confirmed that they have ambitions to build on the initiative of ‘mascot children’ and involve schools and the community in future events.

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