Belinda Hirst spends her days serving up knowledge and guidance to school pupils but will be trying to serve up some aces as she heads to Queenstown with the North Otago tennis team this weekend. Hayden Meikle catches up with her.
Q: What can you tell me about this weekend?
We’re off to Queenstown to play the other southern regions. Teams of four men and four women. We’ll do the best that we can, and try to match or better last year’s results. It’s a very tough level of tennis. Otago and Southern Lakes, especially, have really strong players.
Q: Do you think North Otago is better prepared this year?
As much as we can be with the level of tennis we get to play. The North Otago girls have been playing interclub tennis down in Dunedin. That’s really helped our match play. A couple of the guys are playing that as well.
Q: What number are you playing this weekend?
I’m happy to say I’m at No 2 this year. Rebecca Dellaway is coming back from Auckland to be our No 1. I’m quite happy for youth to be in the higher position. We played together in the last tournament with Nicky Wallace and Mackenzie Phillips. They’re a great bunch. We have a good time and really have that camaraderie of playing as a team, which is fantastic.
Q: How long have you been into tennis?
I was brought up on the side of a tennis court. In a play pen, with my own little racquet, while Mum and Dad were playing. My little brother plays as well.
Q: Where are you from? And what sort of level have you played tennis to in the past?
I’m born and bred in Ashburton. So I played junior representative tennis for Canterbury. Then I went to Auckland, where I was a professional coach for nine years. I represented Auckland in the New Zealand teams event from 2000 to 2008. In 2008, I went to the ITF seniors world individuals in Turkey. My doubles partner and I won silver in the 35-40 age group. I’m still hungry for that gold, ha ha.
Q: Had you played on grass much before coming to Oamaru?
In Ashburton, we had real grass until they got their international courts 11 years ago or so. I love grass for drop shots and slices, but it actually doesn’t do much for your game. There aren’t too many grass courts around now.
Q: Do you like the idea of turning half the Chelmer St courts into hardcourts?
Absolutely. We need to do that for the juniors coming through. We need to think about supporting them and trying to benefit their game and their play style. We want them to be competitive at regional and national levels.
Q: You’re deputy principal at Oamaru Intermediate School. Any pupils out there fancy challenging you on the court?
I think the teachers are more keen for a challenge, ha ha. Not too many from the kids yet.
Q: Do you want to stay in the sport for as long as possible?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t mind being like John Macdonald, still playing and hitting a great tennis ball and moving around the court exceptionally well at 80. I want to play for as long as I can. I also have a 3-year-old daughter, Olivia, who gets very jealous of Mummy going to tennis. She wants to come too. Thank goodness I have a very supportive husband. He is into ironman and triathlon, so we have a really good balance at home and can tag-team the parenting.
Q: Been to any major tennis events?
I’ve done the Aussie Open a couple of times. Loved it. And in Turkey, there were some ex-ITF players. Top 50 in the world. That was a bit intimidating.