MAF technical director Ballard leaves athletics for tennis

By Aftar Singh

Malaysian Athletics Federation technical director Robert Ballard (left) with Malaysia Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin when he was introduced to the media last February. - The STAR Filepic

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) technical director Robert Ballard will leave when his two-year contract ends next month.

The 51-year-old Australian is taking up a one-year contract to be the fitness instructor for India’s Sania Mirza, who is the world No. 1 in women’s doubles.

“I’ve been offered a unique opportunity to work with Sania, who is a world-class tennis player. It’s also a good offer and I’m more than happy to work with one of the world’s top doubles tennis player,” said Ballard, who will start working with Sania by next week in preparation for the Australian Open in Melbourne from Jan 18-31.

“It’s not every time that a coach like me gets a chance to train a top athlete like Sania.

“I will focus on her fitness and make sure she stays injury-free. My goal is to help Sania defend the 10 titles she won with her partner Martina Hingis in competitions next year.”

It is also believed that Ballard is leaving because he can’t see eye-to-eye with MAF president Datuk Karim Ibrahim following the national athletes’ poor performances in the Singapore SEA Games in June.

A total of 46 gold medals were on offer in athletics, but Malaysia won just three for the country’s worst-ever medal haul in athletics since the inception of the Games in Bangkok in 1959.

Ballard thanked the National Sports Council (NSC) for agreeing to release him earlier so that he can work with Sania.