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The ace . . . North Otago tennis veteran John Macdonald still loves to play the sport after 70 years. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

North Otago tennis stalwart John Macdonald reckons he’ll be playing the sport he grew up with for as long as “the body holds together”.

The 80-year-old first picked up a tennis racquet more than 70 years ago and basically had one glued to his hand since.

He was introduced to the sport at the age of 9 and has had an obsession with the sport.

“My mother and father played tennis, mainly at Papakaio. That was a strong club in those days,” Macdonald said.

“In those days, families played tennis. It was probably the only family sport that was played at Papakaio. Before I could play, of course, I had to be ball boy. But that was all right.”

Macdonald was coached by his father and Col Hurst, and played in competitions on Saturday mornings at Papakaio and in Oamaru at the Chelmer St grass courts.

He would also play regularly after school.

“Being a tennis family, my mother and father used to pick us up from Papakaio School . . . my father would always arrange a game of tennis at the grass courts on Chelmer St.

Macdonald developed his game during his early teenage years and when he left Waitaki Boys’ High School at the age of 16, he was one of the best players on the local circuit.

When he reached his 20s, he played competitive tennis on Saturdays. Given the number of quality players in North Otago at the time, it was a battle to make the North Otago representative team, he said.

“Every week, you’d play as well as you could to crack the rep team, which was pretty tough in those days.”

Macdonald, who won several North Otago senior men’s titles, can’t recall exactly when he made his first North Otago team, but said he was a fixture in the squad until the 1970s.

“I was always in the rep team, in the A-grade team,” he said.

“When I started playing for the veterans, it was the end of my senior rep tennis . . . I really enjoyed that.”

His life hasn’t always revolved around tennis – Macdonald was also a top rugby referee.

He refereed first-class provincial games and was proud to control games at all of New Zealand’s major rugby grounds, including Eden Park and Carisbrook.

At the peak of his refereeing days, he was one of the country’s top 10 whistle-blowers.

When he retired from that role, he carried on with his tennis.

He said enjoyed the fellowship and spending time with the good friends he’s made thanks to the sport – as well as the “occasional win”.

Another aspect he enjoyed was somewhat unique to the sport.

“One thing I enjoy about tennis that I’ve always enjoyed is mixed sex tennis – women and men playing together. There’s not a lot of sports where that happens. I love to play doubles and mixed doubles.”

After seven decades, he hasn’t lost his drive and still plays regularly.

“I play three days a week now,” Macdonald said.

“I’m probably playing more tennis now than I’ve ever played, simply because I’ve got time.”

It kept him fit and sharp, and he believed it was the perfect sport for older people to play if they wanted to keep active.

“I would encourage people to get out there and play because it’s a wonderful game. Come along on a Sunday morning and have a look.”

Macdonald had no plans to hang up his racquet any time soon and was determined to play for as long as his body would allow.

“I’ll play for as long as the body holds together,” he said.

“It’s as simple as that.”