Wild weather, sickness and changing venues were just some of the obstacles overcome by the Scots College tennis team in winning their third National Secondary Schools title in the past four years in Auckland last week.
“Our number two seed Finley Hall was vomiting early in the week so he missed a lot of matches and had to be replaced by our fourth and fifth seeds, but there is little between them anyway. It was a real good effort by everyone,” top seed Josh Snowden-Poole acclaims.
There are eight teams at Nationals and they contest six matches (four singles and two doubles) over the course of a fixture. Scots easily accounted for Auckland Grammar School and Tauranga Boys’ College 6-0 in their first two outings, though National Under-14 champion Reece Falck proved a feisty competitor in the latter encounter.
In the last group match Scots tackled Wellington College in a replay of the Central Region final. It proved to be a nail biter.
“We won five three on a count back. What happens if the rubber is tied the winner is determined by the most sets won and fortunately we won more sets than them,” Snowden-Poole recalls.
St. Kentigern College have been Scots’ biggest rival in recent times. In 2016 St. Kent’s beat Scots in the National final. Surprisingly St. Kent’s was tipped over by Christ’s College in pool play resulting in final replay in the semis.
“That was a quite a surprise, but Christ’s had a good team. Dylan Heap the National Under-16 champion is my mate and he was awesome for them,” Snowden-Poole says.
Wellington College would provide an awesome challenge in the final. Not only are the two teams evenly matched because “depth is great” in Capital tennis at the moment, but Auckland’s variable weather changed the terms of the decider.
“The sets were changed to a first to four games and the last set was a straight tie-breaker. Some of the final was played on an outdoor court and some of it inside. I lost to Isaac Becroft who’s a real indoor specialist which wasn’t a good start, but credit to him as he played a great match,” Snowden-Poole complains.
The Becroft setback was to be Snowden-Poole’s only loss of the tournament. The Scots team of Satchel Benn, Milo Benn, Robbie Barnsley and Hall stepped up when it counted.
“I really want to praise my teammates. It was a tough week. A lot of things happened which we didn’t expect. It was a great win,” Snowden-Poole enthuses.
Snowden-Poole is nationally ranked in the top five for singles in his age group and currently has a World ranking of 400. He has competed in Spain, Fiji, Australia (where he also watched Feeder and Nadal) and New Caledonia where he scored a significant doubles victory with Hall.
The Year 13 desires a college scholarship in the US and will shortly head to China to compete internationally in an attempt to boost his world ranking.
Finn Reynolds arrived at the Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne a month ago with little expectation of success in the doubles. His original partner withdrew because of injury and Reynolds had singles commitments.
Reynolds’ meeting with Portuguese player Durate Vale soon changed the Kiwi's priorities. An instant chemistry was forged as the unseeded pair made a giant killing run into the final.
"I met Durate three days before the tournament and we got on really well. He is a really good player and our styles complement each other. When my original partner withdrew I was lucky to meet someone so talented and likeable," Reynolds acclaims.
Reynolds became the first New Zealand male since Steve Downs and James Greenhalgh, who won the Wimbledon juniors in 1993, to make a junior grand slam final.
Unfortunately Reynolds and Vale fell to Yu Hsiou Hsu of Chinese Taipei and Lingxi Zhao of China in the decider but the match was a cliff-hanger settled in a third set tiebreaker.
"They were an experienced pair and played really solid tennis. We got a bit lucky in winning the first set 10-8 in a tiebreak. They didn't make any errors after that and we made a couple of small ones and that was the difference," Reynolds recalls.
In the semi-finals Reynolds and Vale eliminated top seeds Toru Horie and Yibing Wu from Japan and in the first round accounted for third seeds Corentin Moutet and Ergi Kirkin from France.
"It's the best tennis I have played. I felt really good throughout the tournament and was lucky to have such a good partner. It's a great start to the year," Reynolds says.
This coming week Auckland based Reynolds departs for tournaments in Thailand and Malaysia. If Reynolds can score some victories and boost his ranking into the top 60 in the world he has a chance to qualify for the remaining three Grand Slams in 2017.
"My goal is to make the other three Slams which aren’t that far away. To get exposure at those tournaments would be huge for my game," Reynolds admits.
Reynolds has been playing tennis as long as he can remember. His parents are actively involved in the sport. His first major success was finishing third at the Under-11 Nationals and being named in the New Zealand Under-12 team that toured Australia.
Last year Reynolds spent five months in Europe and a month in Asia training and playing to push his combined under-18 world ranking into the top 100 in the world.
Reynolds is grateful for the support New Zealand tennis provides and could be a Grand Slam regular very soon.
P.S. Reynolds initially completed his schooling at Napier BHS and Rangitoto College before switching to online study.
The National Secondary Schools' Tennis championships were held in Auckland last week. Each school was represented by five players and competed in six-match rubbers - four singles and two doubles. The action was hot!
St. Kentigern College was defeated by Scots College in the 2015 decider, but went one better in a 2016 final replay. The team of Sean Kelly, Connor Williamson, Liam Stoica, Freddie Cashmore-Chatwin and Sean Kelley breezed into the final.
Palmerston North Boys' High School, St. Peter's, Cambridge and Wakatipu High School were all beaten convincingly in pool play. St. Kent's beat Palmerston North 6-0 and only dropped 15 games. They accounted for St. Peter's by the same score, completing seven love sets. The doubles pair of Kelley and Stoica dropped a set against Wakatipu, but St. Kent's still prevailed 6-0.
Auckland Grammar School was expected to provide more resistance in the semi-final, but that wasn't the case. St. Kent's won 6-0 and only dropped two sets in the tie.
The final was an epic tussle. Both sides won three matches each, but St. Kent's won more games, 52-51. Kelley and Williamson completed the tournament undefeated. Kelley only dropped seven games in five matches and completed seven love sets.
Westake Girls' High School won the girls tourney. Lauren Alter, Brooke Kenny, Paige Alter, Deshma Weerapperuma and Amily Suga were the victorious team members. In pool play Westlake was only briefly extended by Kapiti College. Lauren Alter dropped a match, but Westlake won 5-1. New Plymouth Girls' High School and St. Margret's College were beaten 6-0. In the New Plymouth match Westlake won five sets to love.
In the semi-final Westlake lost the first two singles rubbers and was facing elimination. However Kenny thrashed Jordan Berry 6-1, 6-3 changing the momentum of the tie. Kenny and Lauren Alter teamed up to win the last doubles match 6-1, 6-2.
In the final Westlake sealed victory when Kenny, who didn't lose a match in the whole tournament, defeated Victoria Hockely in a three-set thriller, 6-4, 4-6, 10-6. The final score in the decider was 5-1 to Westlake.
St. Andrew's College won the mixed event. The winning team was: Vera Goesmann, Lily Bray, Edward Batt, Nic Jenkins, Holly Matson and Jamie Garbett. St. Andrew's won their two pool matches against Wanganui High School 6-0 and St. Kentigern College 5-1. In the Wanganui match, St. Andrew's won four sets to love. The semi-final against Mount Albert Grammar School was a tough tussle. S. Andrew's was down 2-1, but roared back to win. The boys doubles pairing of Batt and Jenkins won the last rubber 6-2, 6-1. In the final St. Andrew's scored an even easier win over St. Kentigern that what they achieved in the round-robin. St. Andrew's didn't drop a set in winning 6-0.
After eight years of waiting Palmerston North Boys' High School finally won the Super 8 tennis tournament for a fourth time.
Three times in the last four years they have finished runners-up, but in Napier they mastered all opponents and a week later conquered New Plymouth Boys' High School to qualify for Nationals in Auckland in April.
The captain of the Palmerston North team is Zared Griffiths. The Year 13 only took up competitive tennis two years ago. He is delighted with the performance of the team.
"The Nationals are being held at Stanley Street where they play the ASB Classic and Heineken Open. It will be really exciting to play at such a good venue. Personally I feel like I have improved a lot in the last couple of years. I am really enjoying my tennis," Griffiths says.
At the Super 8 tournament, four singles and two doubles matches are played over three sets. The team who reaches four overall victories is the winner of the rubber.
Palmerston North had an easy start accounting for Napier Boys' High School B (a late replacement for Rotorua BHS), but New Plymouth BHS and Hamilton BHS would provide far tougher resistance.
New Plymouth boats Ajeet Rai who is the top-ranked under-16 player in the country. Rai won his singles match, but Palmerston North took the tie 4-2. A particularly tight win by Kurt Amey was crucial in swigging fortunes Palmerston's way. Hamilton BHS was accounted for 5-1.
The conditions for the semi-final against the premier Napier Boys' team were tricky. Strong winds and consistent rain resulted in a number of three-set matches, but Palmerston held their nerve to reach the final where Tauranga Boys' awaited.
A strong start in the singles meant Palmerston North only had to win four doubles games to win on a count back. They duly achieved this and Griffith celebrated a faultless record of eight wins in a row at the tourney.
"It was great to win all eight matches, especially as the captain. As a captain of a tennis team you can't really do a lot when your not playing, expect encourage the others. It was great to lead by example," Griffiths explains.
After the Super 8, Palmerston North played a quad series against Auckland GS, Hamilton BHS and Wellington College in the capital. All three matches were lost, but the practice was vital in taming New Plymouth again in the regional qualifier a few days later and preparing for Nationals.
Griffiths says his favourite player is Roger Federer. In addition to tennis he plays rugby and water polo. In 2017 he hopes to study at Victoria University in Wellington.
George Stoupe from Hutt International Boys’ School secured the Number One ranking in Under-14 boys tennis in late 2015. He has strengthened that status over a busy summer.
Stoupe has made two trips to Australia and except for Xmas and Boxing Day has been training or playing the rest of the time.
The Under-14 Nationals were held at the Scarbro Tennis Centre in Auckland in January. Stoupe was the top seed, but almost relinquished that standing in the semi-finals against Jamie Garbett. Stoupe recalls what happened.
“I started every match slowly. I think the pressure of Nationals made me nervous. I lost the first set to Jamie 1-6 and was down 3-5, 15-40 in the second. I was a bit lucky to recover and win.”
Earlier Stoupe had dropped a set in earning a difficult victory over his doubles partner and fellow HIBS student William Brownlie. Stoup admits it’s tough playing singles against his close friend.
“We both play a similar style. We like to be aggressive and mix things up at the net. That’s why we made a good team in doubles.”
Stoupe and Brownlie won the doubles title for a third consecutive year beating the Canterbury pair of Garbett and Reece Falck in the final.
In the singles decider Chris Zhang would prove to be fierce opposition. The boys are close friends and the conditions would have a major bearing on the match, Stoupe explains.
“It was really windy which made serving and controlling ground strokes hard. We both started slowly and that made things a bit of a grind. It was hard work, but I was delighted to win.”
Stoupe prevailed 7-6, 7-5 and later added the Under-16 mixed doubles title with Janvhi Clark from Waikato Bays.
Perhaps the highlight and biggest learning experience of the summer for Stoupe was his time in Melbourne. In mid December he competed for New Zealand in the ‘Big December Showdown’ which features 32 leading Australian, Japanese and New Zealand players. Stoupe with a wildcard finished tenth in the singles and was fifth with the Kiwis in the teams event.
“I was pretty happy with the way I played. I got better as the event went on. The heat was hard to handle. It got up to 35 degrees on some days. The speed of the courts was quicker than any surface I have played on,” Stoupe says.
In January Stoupe returned to Melbourne as a spectator at the Australian Open. He got to watch World Number One Novak Djokovic play.
Note: Stoupe was a member of the Central team that won the National Teams Event in January. He won all six matches he was involved in.
George Stoupe is the number one ranked Under-14 tennis player in New Zealand. At the College Sport Wellington Awards recently he scooped the prize for tennis player of the year. He is only Year 9 at Hutt International Boys’ School.
Over Labour weekend the New Zealand Junior Masters were held at Wilding Park in Christchurch. The event features the top eight players in that age group in the country.
Stoupe was seeded second, but finally overcame his nemesis Chris Zhang from Westlake Boys’ High School. Stoup had never beaten Zhang in their previous meetings. He explains his tactics in a match that determined a change in the pecking order of New Zealand Junior tennis.
“Chris is a lot bigger than any of us. He hits the ball harder than any of us. I decided to serve and volley occasionally to shorten the length of the rallies and mix things up. I also sliced the ball and backed my fitness,” he says.
Stoupe won in straight sets 6-3, 6-3. The following weekend he won Central Masters title, a tournament involving the best players from Wellington to Taranaki. The victory over Zhang though is particularly satisfying. He has bragging rights over a frequent travel companion.
“I travel a lot with Chris. Chris and I are a part of the targeted talent group at New Zealand tennis. We get training and competition support which is really nice,” Stoupe says.
Stoupe is already well travelled. In July he won the doubles title at the Storks Cup tournament at Meppel, in the Netherlands. Stoupe and Zhang, who were unseeded, beat the top seeds, from the Netherlands, 6-3, 6-7, 10-7 in the final.
Stoupe spent eight weeks in Europe competing and training under the guidance of Tennis New Zealand coaches Marcel Vos and Lan Bale, as well as his own coach Marc Paulik.
Stoupe says it was a “valuable learning experience.” He was exposed to the clay surface for the first time.
Stoupe played the game for the first time when he was seven. He started at a now defunct Lower Hutt Club. He has won over 20 singles and doubles titles, but believes his success in the Under-12 national doubles two years ago was the catalyst for his increased training and ascent up the rankings.
In January Stoupe won the national under-14 doubles title, with schoolmate William Brownlie.
In December Stoupe will head to Australia to represent New Zealand at the Australian Nationals held at Melbourne Park. He achieved a top 15 finish in the singles and teams’ event last year.
In January 2016 the New Zealand Nationals are staged in Auckland.
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