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While most teenagers spent their summer at the beach, George Stoupe from Hutt International Boys’ School was hitting tennis balls with some of the best players in the world.
The 17-year old was a part of a Tennis New Zealand contingent training and on standby to support talent at the ASB Classic in New Zealand.
“I got to hit with Fabio Fognini, Taylor Fritz and met David Ferrer,” Stoupe reveals.
“We were staying about ten minutes away from Stanley Street and if somebody needed a hitting partner we got a call. Typically you would spend between 30 to 45 minutes on court. Fabio was really relaxed, but others were pretty intense which was nerve-racking,” Stoupe continued.
Stoupe’s nerves would soon be amplified further. Being in the right place at the right time earned him a late wildcard into the main draw of the doubles. Stoupe and Kiwi partner Ajeet Rai would appear on centre court against Austin Krajicek and Artem Sitak, more than a decade their senior.
“It was a huge surprise to get a wildcard and play on centre court. I’ve never played in front of a crowd that size before. It was a fun and invaluable learning experience. The crowd was great. Because we were the underdogs they really got behind us,” Stoupe enthused.
The rookies lost bravely 6-3, 6-2, but a taste of the top is strengthening Stoupe’s ambitions in 2019.
On February 26 he will compete in two grade one ITF tournaments in Thailand and Malaysia in an attempt to boost his junior world ranking of 226. Grade one tournaments are the highest ranking tournaments outside junior Grand Slams and strong performances in South East Asia will open up all sorts of possibilities.
“It’ll be some of the toughest competition I have faced and the heat and humidity will be a major challenge,” he says.
If I can perform well I will have a chance of making junior Grand Slams and being recognised by US colleges. I would like to get a scholarship to the States next year and have already had some offers.”
Stoupe has positioned himself for further advancement after a successful 2018. He started the year by winning the New Zealand Under-16 singles and doubles titles. In July there was an international breakthrough when he won an ITF Junior Doubles championship in Brisbane and a month later he tasted single and doubles glory in an equivalent event in Hamilton.
In December, Stoupe accomplished a rare feet by winning the National Under-18 singles title without dropping a set in Auckland. Stoupe’s triumph means he has captured national honours at every age group. In the decider Stoupe beat Isaac Becroft from Wellington College who is now on scholarship at Mississippi State University.
“I must have played Issac about 20 times. I’ve won the last few, but he’s had some good results too. We get along fine off the court, but on the court we are competitive. I was really happy the way I played in December,” Stoupe reflected.
Stoupe was named Tennis New Zealand Junior Male Player of the Year and is currently the number one ranked under-18 player in the country. On the ITF tour he has fashioned a 44-19 win/loss record in singles and 51-18 in doubles.