THE fifth Distinction Hotels Te Anau Tennis Invitational featured eight of New Zealand’s top male tennis players.
New Zealand No 1 Rubin Statham, Finn Tearney, Rhett Purcell, Finn Reynolds, Riki McLachlan, Rob Reynolds, Wesley Whitehouse and Ajeet Rai all competed for a share of the prize pool of more than $20,000, with $8000 going to the winner of the two-day tournament held on December 28-29.
The tournament attracted one of the biggest crowds seen at the event over the past four years and was played in brilliant weather.
Statham and Tearney met in the final. Runner-up Tearney, of Wellington, had to settle for $5000 after he was beaten by the New Zealand No 1, who dominated the third set to see out the match 6-1, 5-7, 6-1. It was Statham’s third Te Anau Tennis Invitational crown after wins in 2014 and 2016.
The finale of the all-Kiwi tournament was looking like one-way traffic as Statham ran away with the first set and took control of the second. However, Tearney refused to roll over and clawed his way back to force a decider.
He could not maintain the momentum, however, as Statham found his second wind.
It was quite a performance from Statham considering the form Tearney had shown in recent weeks.
Tearney won both the national title and Wellington Open and carried that form with him into day one in Te Anau as he cruised past McLachlan and Whitehouse to reach the final.
It was Tearney’s fourth time as runner-up in the Te Anau tournament.
Whitehouse had to settle for fourth as he lost the third-place playoff to Purcell 6-2, 7-5.
Ajeet Rai held his nerve in a third-set tiebreak against Rob Reynolds to finish fifth with a 2-6, 6-4, 10-7 victory, while Finn Reynolds beat McLachlan 6-4, 6-3 in the battle for seventh and eighth.
With more than $20,000 of prize money up for grabs, the Te Anau tournament is the country’s third richest, behind the men’s and women’s ASB Classics.
The second day featured an exhibition doubles match between 10-times Grand Slam champion Cara Black, of Zimbabwe, and Whitehouse against Marcus Daniell and Queenstown-based coach Lan Bale.
Black has been ranked as the World No 1 women’s doubles player. She was convinced to come to Te Anau by Bale. The South African-born coach and former world No 27 ranked doubles player won his first career title with Black’s brother, Byron, in South Africa in 1993.
Players and spectators alike enjoyed the relaxed and casual atmosphere of the invitational, which is a unique event for the small lakeside town of 2000 residents.
Money raised from the invitational goes back into the sport in the town.
The Te Anau tennis community helped the event to run smoothly, including catering for the corporate facilities on offer during the two-day event.
The Te Anau Tennis Club now has more than 100 members, 90 of them junior players. The juniors receive subsidised coaching, which had helped to boost the number of club members.
Te Anau’s full-time professional tennis coach, Danny Baleson, of South Africa, is in his second season with the club and is assisted by two other coaches, 25-year-old Lois Tournier, of France, and India-born American Jay Patel, who are also based in Te Anau. They coach 450 tennis players throughout Southland.