Top Kiwi ju­nior angers of­fi­cials with cup snub

Sunday News - - TENNIS - DAVID LONG

NEW Zealand will en­ter next month’s Fed Cup with­out their most promis­ing young player, Valentina Ivanov, who has made her­self unavail­able, de­spite con­sid­er­able fund­ing go­ing her way.

To make mat­ters worse, US col­lege Georgia Tech have re­fused to re­lease Paige Houri­gan for the tour­na­ment, which takes place in Bahrain next month.

Ivanov, who is based in Syd­ney, has been a Ten­nis NZ tar­geted ath­lete since 2014, when she was aged 12, and she has ben­e­fit­ted from a con­sid­er­able amount of fund­ing.

Last year she went to Europe for an ex­tended pe­riod of time, which Ten­nis NZ paid for. She also went to Egypt and to South Carolina for a train­ing block.

Ivanov was then sup­ported and funded to get to Asia through Oc­to­ber-Novem­ber.

She has in­formed Ten­nis NZ that she doesn’t want to play in the Fed Cup next month, so Erin Rout­liffe, Jade Lewis, Kather­ine West­bury and Emily Fan­ning have been se­lected.

With­out the in­jured Ma­rina Erakovic or Houri­gan, Ivanov would have been an im­por­tant mem­ber of the team.

Ten­nis NZ CEO Julie Pater­son said they ex­pected some­one who they’d put so much sup­port and re­sources into would make her­self avail­able to play for the coun­try.

‘‘We were re­ally dis­ap­pointed that she chose not to,’’ Pater­son said.

‘‘We haven’t re­ally had a re­sponse about why not and I guess that makes it a lit­tle more puz­zling from our perspective.

‘‘We have in­vested a lot of time, en­ergy and re­source into Valentina over the last 12 months and we have an ex­pec­ta­tion that part of that in­vest­ment would be that the re­turn from the player is to make them­selves avail­able for na­tional teams and tour­na­ments, if re­quired.’’

Ivanov hasn’t played in New Zealand since 2015 and it was hoped that she’d come back late last year to play in the NZ Na­tion­als. How­ever, she chose to stay in Aus­tralia and train with Ten­nis NZ coach Mar­cel Vos.

‘‘We’ve been flex­i­ble around the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion. We re­ally wanted Valentina to com­pete in the na­tional champs, but it didn’t suit her sched­ule and what she was do­ing at the time.

‘‘We tried to be rea­son­able about that, but from a rep­re­sen­ta­tive perspective and na­tional teams, that’s a non-ne­go­tiable.

‘‘If you’re go­ing to get sup­port from Ten­nis NZ, then we re­ally think that there needs to be some com­mit­ment and re­turn back to New Zealand.’’

Valentina’s father Sergey Ivanov said the rea­son why she’s not play­ing the Fed Cup was be­cause they didn’t think the 16-year-old was ready to play at that level yet.

‘‘For the last year she was suf­fer­ing lots of different things,’’ Sergey said.

‘‘She started grow­ing fast and be­cause of this she had some com­mon prob­lems, some in­juries and she didn’t play for a long time.

‘‘She lost a lot of rank­ing points and to jump into the next level and play women’s ten­nis would be dif­fi­cult for her body.

‘‘It would be bet­ter if it was slowed down and she was al­lowed to ad­just to a new en­vi­ron­ment. So she’ll play the (Ju­nior) Australian Open and then it will be a clearer pic­ture.’’

As for Houri­gan, TNZ high per­for­mance direc­tor Si­mon Rea Rea said he hoped Georgia Tech would have al­lowed her to rep­re­sent her coun­try.

‘‘She’s shat­tered and so are we, be­cause she rep­re­sented us strongly last year and we be­lieve she’s a big part of our Fed Cup fu­ture.’’

Mean­while, the Davis Cup men’s team for next month’s tie against China has also been named.

No 1 ranked sin­gles player Ru­bin Statham is joined by dou­bles spe­cial­ists Michael Venus, Mar­cus Daniell and Artem Si­tak. WITH an­other ASB Clas­sic done, Karl Budge quickly turns his at­ten­tions to the 2019 tour­na­ment and how to make it bet­ter.

While the men’s event this year was full of big name play­ers or ex­cit­ing young­sters, the women’s tour­na­ment was heav­ily de­pen­dent on Caro­line Woz­ni­acki or Ag­nieszka Rad­wan­ska go­ing deep in the draw.

Thank­fully for Budge that hap­pened, but he re­mains ham­strung by it be­ing an In­ter­na­tional level WTA event and the rule that they can have only one top 10 player.

For this year he signed up Woz­ni­acki early, so had to tell Venus Wil­liams she couldn’t come back.

So the log­i­cal step is for the tour­na­ment to move up to a WTA Premier event, although that does mean there’s a sig­nif­i­cant jump in the prize­money the tour­na­ment has to pay out from around $340,000 to $950,000.

‘‘That’s a con­ver­sa­tion we want to have,’’ Budge said af­ter the men’s fi­nal.

‘‘The re­stric­tions of only hav­ing one top-10 player makes our lives harder.

‘‘I could prob­a­bly sign Caro­line Woz­ni­acki next week, but that makes our life more chal­leng­ing if we do that.

‘‘What hap­pens for the rest of the year? We’ve now played our card and we’ve got to wait to see where ev­ery­one else fin­ishes in the rank­ings be­fore we know what we can do.

‘‘I’d like to see what we can do on the women’s side and if we can get a slightly higher tiered tour­na­ment.’’

As for the men’s event, this one was built around the next gen­er­a­tion of play­ers. How­ever, by the time the tour­na­ment got to the semi­fi­nals, there were only the veter­ans left.

Even so, there were some young play­ers out there who are sure to be su­per­stars.

‘‘Ev­ery one of those play­ers we brought out re­warded us this year and backed up our in­vest­ment in them,’’ Budge said.

‘‘I was impressed with De­nis Shapo­valov be­fore he ar­rived and I’m even more so now. It’s lit­tle things like thank­ing the player ser­vices staff be­fore he left.’’

ASB Clas­sic direc­tor Dale Budge.

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