January. The one month of the year when New Zealanders are reminded that we still have professional tennis players.
Those two tournaments in Auckland are well run, make use of the proximity to the Australian Open and work the media well. With a couple of slick sponsors running the show the sport dominates the sporting landscape and celebrity pages for a fortnight; apparently Stanley St is just the place to be, and to be seen.
But not if you’re a New Zealand player. The stocks have fallen so far that, with the exception of Marina Erakovich, for the organisers local players are not even considered. So it was when other options fell through that the Heineken Open management decided to call up the New Zealand number two player Dan King-Turner as a wild card entry. King-Turner was holidaying at the beach at the time.
Like in previous years, this home town wild card lasted less than an hour but Hyphen wasn’t going to go quietly. He outraged about how all wild cards in these privately funded tournaments should go to local players as some kind of right. But it’s hard not to understand why the organisers would prefer to attract the best field possible and steer away from Double Bagel opening round matches. They are not too worried about senses of entitlement.
One radio commentator then suggested a solution that if an American, for example, was offered a wild card in Auckland then an American tournament should be reciprocate the favour for a New Zealander. Really; they owe us a living too?
Then Rubin Statham, you may recall him as Jose Statham, decided he needed to remind us all he was around too. He announced that he was quitting playing for his country until further notice, pulling out of the impending Davis Cup clash against … Lebanon. He cited the fact that NZ Tennis hadn’t ploughed enough coaching resources into his career over the years as the reason for this.
This was following nine years of Davis Cup service, during which time New Zealand has continued to slide down the Asia Pacific divisions and seen its home ties moved to Hawera.
He didn’t stop there though; he claimed that his world rating of 360 (at the time of writing) was evidence that these players are actually boxing above their weight. All of this delivered with a straight face and, once again, that sense of entitlement sitting firmly on the shoulder.
The fact that Marina Erakovich, with similar support, is ranked 60th in the world was conveniently overlooked.
At least we were saved the sound of Jose-Rubin’s mother phoning up Radio Sport telling everyone to stop picking on him like we had a couple of years ago.
Which brings us onto parents in tennis; traditionally more of an American thing.
A 12 year old from Auckland has just signed up for a year’s tennis scholarship in Spain. Schooling, fitness work and coaching. And there is a lot of chatter out there from people who should know that this is the only way.
Clearly this is a great opportunity for the boy, hopefully he will take full advantage of all this has to offer, and he is fortunate to have parents who can fund this but there is something a little Jennifer Capriati about this. Surely this is not the only pathway for young players
Pushy parents? Well his name is Maxim; you be the judge.
The days of Onny Parun and Brian Fairlie through to Kelly Evernden and Brett Steven seems a long time ago. Take Parun for example. In his later years he took to biting a string attached to his shirt in order to keep his head still as he served. Kiwi No8 wire ingenuity at its best.
None of these players were from particularly wealthy backgrounds or had pushy parents. They just did it and all made the world Top 100 comfortably. Hopefully the next generation after this lot will lose that sense of entitlement and follow in those footsteps.