An Aussie lad’s dream sporting job

***Rachel Khoo would like to thank all the inspiring people who helped make the Khoollect studio a hive of creativity. Although the Khoollect studio’s doors have now closed, you can keep up with Rachel’s newest adventures on and on Rachel’s Instagram and Facebook pages – and, continue to enjoy the Khoollect website’s stories and recipes, which will remain available.***

While most of us get to ease our way, fully bellied, back into work after the Christmas holidays, Darren Sturgess is fully immersed in the most important and stressful working month of the year. As tournament services manager for Tennis Australia, it’s his job to ensure everything runs smoothly for the Australian Open. The court has to be pristine, equipment in perfect working order, and all wheels and cogs in place so the tournament is pulled off without a glitch. Darren tells Khoollect how he scored his dream sporting job and about some brushes with the best.

What does your work involve during Australian Open season?

My team looks after the appearance of all the Australian Open tennis courts, including the items and equipment that sit on them. Our main objective is to ensure they present well to a global broadcast audience. We consult regularly with the tournament referee, the broadcast team, and the commercial department to deliver the best event we can.

How did you score a job like this?

There was a lot of persistence required in the beginning. Just trying to get an interview was hard enough. I had trouble post University trying get any permanent job in Melbourne’s sporting industry, so I decided to travel and was lucky enough to land a job with the LTA (British Tennis). When I was done in London, a job opened up in Perth, so I was there for four years before moving to Melbourne to take up this role.

Have you always had a sporting background and worked in the sports industry?

Sport has always been a big part of my life whether that be participating or watching. I have fond memories of watching late night Wimbledon matches with my Grandmother.

What’s the best part about your job?

The people! I’m lucky to have a great team that works with me during the three to four weeks of the Australian Open, as well as year-round. They often post photos with the hashtag #janfam (January family). We’re also known in tennis circles as the ‘happy slam’. Players often vote us the best event of the year and love coming to Melbourne to play.

Highlight of your career or most memorable moment?

Getting our Asia-Pacific Wildcard Playoff up and running in China. This event started four years ago and provides opportunities for players from Asia-Pacific to play off and win a wildcard into the Australian Open. Being involved in these events and working with an international team has been a great achievement and experience for me.

Can you let us in on any little industry secrets? … Any weird rituals you’ve observed?

For sure. Tennis players are very superstitious and like to keep to a routine. Stan Wawrinka always likes a pile of white towels and room temperature water on his seat for his matches. Rafael Nadal uses two towels on court to wipe the sweat (one held by each of the ball kids at the back of the court), and is particular about the way his drink bottle faces. Serena Williams only ever takes one ball from the ball kids, and Maria Sharapova only likes the ball kids to throw the tennis balls to her from one corner of the court.

Another little industry secret: while finals tickets are hard to get, I recommend buying tickets to all the semi-finals. You can see four great singles matches which are often up to a standard that compares closely with the finals.

Who’s your favourite tennis player and why? Any brushes with fame to tell us about?

My most notable experience was with Roger Federer when I was working in the player services team. For some reason he didn’t have his accreditation pass on him. The security guard stopped him from entering. I noticed this and walked over to advise the guard ‘it’s ok, he’s one of the players’. Roger thanked me, shook my hand and said ‘I’m Roger’. I just thought in my head, of course I know who you are. It got better – the security guard’s colleague witnessed what had happened and took him around the corner to show him the multiple champion photos on the wall of Roger Federer.

Best Kept Secrets

I khoollect a few … 

I hang on to all my accreditation passes from the tennis events that I’ve worked at and visited. I also have a decent record collection that I’ve acquired over time.

What’s your favourite item in your #khoollection?

My Global knives.

What are your happiest food memories?

  • Pizza in Italy
  • Baguette with Emmental cheese and ham in Paris
  • Curry in London
  • Roast Pork and chicken rice in Singapore
  • 99 tents in Beijing
  • Myeong-dong Kyoja in Seoul

Myeong-dong Kyoja in Seoul

Who’s your #khoollectcrush?

Audrey Tautou (French actress).

Urban Favourites

Where do you call home?

I’m from Sydney, but Melbourne is definitely home.

What do you love most about it?

Food, coffee, culture and love of sports.

Your favourite place for coffee?

Where do I start? You can’t go too wrong in Melbourne! I like Dukes Coffee Roasters on Flinders Lane.

Best spot for breakfast?

Local is always good. My local is Lady Bower in Reservoir, Melbourne

Favourite place for dinner?

Hell of the North in Fitzroy, Melbourne

What are the best green parks or spaces in Melbourne for kicking around a ball, throwing a frisbee, or playing a spot of cricket/rugby?

Best beaches for lazing about on?

Being from Sydney, I can only relate to beaches that have waves and Melbourne beaches don’t. So you’d need to drive an hour and a half south to find any. Places along the Great Ocean Road like Lorne and Apollo Bay are a little further but great spots. In saying that, the ‘beaches’ in Melbourne are kid-friendly with no waves.

Ideal lazy Sunday?

Breakfast and coffee followed by a late BBQ with friends at our place. A game of golf too if it can be arranged.

If you didn’t live there, then where?

Not sure to be honest, but anywhere that provided a great opportunity and a great experience. It would be nice to be closer to our families in Sydney and Adelaide, but Melbourne works being halfway between both.

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Read Darren’s top annual sporting events to attend in Melbourne.

Darren had input into Khoollect’s Melbourne local’s guide.

Check out the details on the Australian Open.