Mackenzie Phillips might just be the exact opposite of the cliched tennis brat.
The Waitaki Girls’ High School year 11 pupil does not throw racquets, or talk back to umpires, or get rattled under pressure.
As her mum, Julie, likes to say, this is a girl who loves tennis too much to ruin it by throwing tantrums.
Mackenzie, who turned 16 last Friday, is fresh off a victory in the Otago Open senior tournament, is a key part of the North Otago team that plays in the Dunedin club competition, and might be the brightest prospect in a talented stable of local youngsters.
Just don’t ask her to say that.
“She’s a very humble girl,” her mother smiled.
Mackenzie, who lives with her family at Herbert, first picked up a racquet in competition at the age of 5, and was playing representative tennis by 7.
“Mum played, and my Grandma played, and I’d just go and watch them play,” she recalled.
Julie remembers watching her daughter take her first steps in the sport.
“She just loved it. Tennis was her happy place.”
Mackenzie linked with successful coach Steve Dries, who is based in Timaru but oversees the leading juniors in North Otago, when she was 8.
She has represented Southern teams at 12s, 14s and 16s levels, and spent a month in the United States in 2016, training and playing in tournaments in Los Angeles and Las Vegas with her mother and younger sister Jordyn by her side.
“That was really cool,” Mackenzie said.
“I learned heaps, and we met lots of new people.”
Mackenzie took the big step of competing at the national championships this year, placing 31st, before her breakthrough win at the Otago Open.
She played down that achievement, but her proud mum filled in some details.
“It was quite a big deal. They had umpires, ballkids – the works. And it was live streamed.
“You can get over-awed by that sort of thing but Mackenzie has an amazing temperament. She just doesn’t get rattled.”
Mackenzie, who also plays basketball and badminton, is not sure what the future holds in tennis. An American college experience potentially appeals, and she likes the idea of winning a New Zealand title.
Otherwise, the love of the game will keep her on a tennis court for a long time.