Work in progress, but there is progress
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.