Melbourne, Australia, 15 January 2013 |

Nominees for the MLC Tennis Hot Shot of the Year competition arrived at Melbourne Park Tuesday morning as they prepare for their action-packed two days at Australian Open 2013.

Decked out in their MLC Tennis Hot Shots (MLCTHS) gear – complimented by the highly popular SpongeBob SquarePants backpack – the youngsters’ excitement levels were soaring from the moment they stepped off the bus.

The 12 monthly winners arrived outside Rod Laver Arena at 9.30am after a big breakfast at Crown Metropol and were taken to Garden Square for a hit on the custom MLCTHS courts alongside some video and photo shoots.

From there they were granted VIP access into the tunnels of Melbourne Park – an exclusive area where all the world’s top players roam – and took a wander down the Walk of Champions.

Already wide-eyed and soaking in the experience, excitement levels stepped up yet another gear as the nominees caught up with former world No.8 and MLCTHS Ambassador, Alicia Molik.

> Enter the MLC Tennis Hot Shot of the Year competition

Molik, who spent time with each kid talking all things Hot Shots and tennis, then joined the kids for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would make most onlookers jealous – a hit on Rod Laver Arena.

Treated like tennis stars, the Hot Shots were introduced onto the court in front of thousands of spectators before rallying with each other using MLCTHS’s modified equipment and custom mini nets. With video cameras and photographers all around, the kids spent 15 minutes in the spotlight on Melbourne Park’s most prestigious court as Andy Murray waited in the wings before entering for his Round 1 match.

After coming off the court, eight-year-old Queenslander Jake Harford said he loved the experience.

“It was really fun. I didn’t feel many nerves really (in front of all the people), it felt just like a big tennis lesson,” he said.

Asked whether playing on centre court was his best ever tennis experience, Harford said: “Yeah, definitely! Because I feel like I’m playing in the Australian Open and maybe I’ll go on the news.”

Then, when April winner Ellie White was asked what she thought of hitting on Rod Laver Arena, the Western Australian beamed and yelled “Great! I can’t wait to become a professional!”

Molik, as the ambassador for MLCTHS, said the on-court experience is one the youngsters should cherish.

“I don’t think there’s a more ultimate experience than this and I know all the kids are very appreciative of it,” Molik said.

“I was mentioning to all the kids here that the first time I ever walked in the gates of Melbourne Park or came to play here on the courts I was 16 so what an amazing experience it is for them to have a hit on Rod Laver Arena.”

“The fact they’re doing it in a group too, it’s fun. Imagine them going back to all their schoolmates talking about their Australian Open experience, surely that has to rub off on a lot of their friends as well.”

The nominees will spend the rest of the day with their families enjoying all the Day 2 action with prime front-row seats on centre court.

The activities kick on later this evening with the official MLCTHS of the Year awards held at Melbourne Zoo in the iconic Rainforest Room. The winner will take home $5000 courtesy of MLC and will receive tennis lessons from Molik herself.

The 12 kids will officially open the gates of Melbourne Park with Molik on Wednesday morning for MLCTHS Day and will also get their photos taken with the Australian Open trophies.

For more coverage on the MLCTHS of the Year competition head to our Facebook page here.