Work in progress, but there is progress

Nelson Mail - - Sport - David Long

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.

Again the dou­bles guys did well with Mar­cus Daniell and Artem Si­tak reach­ing the quar­ter­fi­nals with their part­ners, while Michael Venus lost in the fi­nal.

But what also stood out on men’s fi­nals day was see­ing Auck­land-raised Cameron Nor­rie – beaten 6-4 6-2 by Ten­nys Sand­gren – and Queen­stown-born Ben McLach­lan rep­re­sent­ing Bri­tain and Ja­pan, re­spec­tively.

It’s rare enough to see play­ers who grew up in this coun­try get­ting to fi­nals, but when they’re do­ing it play­ing for other na­tions, ten­nis fans must be left with mixed feel­ings.

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 – Rai, Valentina Ivanov and Houri­gan – it’s go­ing to be tough, 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 has 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.

‘‘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.’’

Houri­gan, 21, has fin­ished four years at col­lege and is go­ing out on the cir­cuit full­time. She’ll base her­self in the United States 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.’’

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 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 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.’’


One of the ones that got away? Cameron Nor­rie re­flects on his 6-4 6-2 loss to Ten­nys Sand­gren in the fi­nal in Auck­land, where the New Zealand-raised British player made a big impression.

Paige Houri­gan reached the dou­bles fi­nal in Auck­land.

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