Work just beginning for NZ’s tennis players after ASB Classic spotlight

It’s been a generally positive ASB Classic fortnight for the New Zealanders, but the big question is where do they go from here?

Highlight of the women’s week was Paige Hourigan making the doubles final, but aside from that no New Zealander won a match against anyone who wasn’t a Kiwi.

As for the men’s, unranked Ajeet Rai came within a game of beating world No 287 Roberto Marcora, while Rubin Statham had the biggest win of his life taking down sixth seed Chung Hyeon.

Once again the doubles guys did well with Marcus Daniell and Artem Sitak getting to the quarterfinals with their partners, while Michael Venus lost in the final.

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But what also stood out on men’s finals day was seeing Auckland raised Cameron Norrie and Queenstown born representing Britain and Japan respectively.

It’s rare enough already to see players who grew up in this country getting to finals, but when they’re doing it playing for other nations, it’s with mixed feelings that tennis fans watch them at the ASB Tennis Arena.

Valentina Ivanov was able to beat Paige Hourigan in the first round of qualifying at the Classic.


Valentina Ivanov was able to beat Paige Hourigan in the first round of qualifying at the Classic.

Those who were there at Tennis NZ when Norrie and McLachlan jumped ship, are gone but the lessons need to be learned.

For the three young New Zealand players who’ll be on the circuit this year, Ajeet Rai, Valentina Ivanov and Paige Hourigan it’s going to be tough for them, especially as none of them will receive significant financial support from Tennis NZ.

Tennis NZ high performance director, Simon Rea said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen from the young Kiwi players, but there is still a lot of work ahead of them.

“Valentina showed some promise and upside and a work ethic that’s really strong,” Rea said.

“She’ll understand some of the opportunities she’s had through the week, where her priorities need to lie.

“From a Tennis NZ perspective for 2019, we’ll sit with her, Nathan (Carter, her coach)     and Oksana (her mother) at the appropriate time and discuss our pathway and some of what we’re offering in 2019 and have a mutual conversation about what might be of interest or benefit to them.

“As per 12 months ago, she doesn’t meet our strongest level of criteria for support and she still doesn’t. 

“But we’re going to try to be more flexible in some ways, for athletes with the right personal qualities in 2019.”

The 21-year-old Hourigan has finished four years at college. She’s going out on the circuit full-time. She’ll base herself in America but can’t afford to travel with a coach.

“For our older athletes that are represented in our pinnacle teams, Davis and Fed Cup athletes, there is always support for them when they return home, in terms of coaching support, physical performance support, physiotherapy support,” Rea said.

“What we’re not in a position to do with athletes who sit outside of the benchmarks in our criteria is to fund them over and above that.

“Our support with Paige in mind, consists of the relationship, support across the year in terms of communication, sitting down talking scheduling, looking at priorities, working on game styles when she’s in New Zealand.

“If she chooses to base herself in America, we wish her well with that and would love her to put her hand up again for Fed Cup. She’d be on a contract for that and that’s the extent of the support we’d provide.”

Rai will continue without much in the way of funding from Tennis NZ and has never been regarded as one of their priority players.

While there were signs to be hopeful about in the tennis from Ivanov and Hourigan at the Classic, the reality is that according to data, they’re both behind where they should be if they’re going to get to the top.

Rea has used data to establish the criteria for Tennis NZ support and there is only one player that reaches the top level of this, 13-year-old Vivian Yang.

“People have criticised and been vocal that the athlete development criteria is too strong,” Rea said.

“But this criteria isn’t my opinion, it’s facts from where these players have come from over the last decade or two. I didn’t make it up, I just joined the dots.

“You see Andreescu beat Wozniacki as an 18-year-old and Anisimova ensconced in the top 100 as a 17-year-old.

“Whilst we’re a long way away from that at the moment, where we can get better is providing our best juniors with some additional support, when they’re deserving, to try to give them that fillip or boost of momentum as they transition out of juniors and into professional tennis.”

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