The Chelmer St grass tennis courts will play host to the North Otago Open this weekend and organisers will hope the weather plays its part after last year’s men’s final washout.
Eighteen players will battle it out for the men’s title but only four will be in contention in the women’s section.
Last year’s women’s champion Nicky Wallace will return to defend her title but faces tough competition in fellow Oamaruvian Rebecca Dellaway and Under-16 Otago number one seed Rileigh Fields and number three seed Eliza Booth.
The men’s title is currently shared by Perry Crockett and Gillies De Gouy after poor weather put a premature end to last year’s final but neither will return this year due to coaching commitments.
North Otago Tennis Association president Kevin Dellaway said the lack of female participants in the singles section was disappointing, but not unexpected following a poor turnout at the recent Wanaka Open and other events.
“The men are up a couple from last year, there’ll be 18 in the singles with a couple just coming to play doubles, so the doubles competition will be quite good aswell,” he said.
“The women are disappointing, but they’re always disappointing, just in Wanaka at the weekend there was only eight, the senior open, but they had 26 men.
“For us, we’ve got more numbers but we’re missing those top players.”
This year’s open will be the 82nd with the inaugural open played in 1923 and Dellaway is expecting a weekend of highly competitive tennis.
“The women will be some good tennis, there’s two from Otago, the number one seed 16-year-old, Rileigh Fields and about their third seed Eliza Booth.
“Rebecca (Dellaway) will be playing this year, she had a broken wrist last year, her and Nicky (Wallace) will slug it out in the final I’d imagine, there’ll be some good women’s tennis but just not a lot of numbers.”
With explosive competition expected, there was no place for family loyalty as Dellaway tipped Wallace to down his daughter Rebecca and retain her title should the pair meet in the final.
“When Rebecca and Nicky get at it I’d say Rebecca everyday, but on grass, Nicky Wallace, if I was a betting man I’d put my money on Nicky on grass,” he said.
In the Men’s section Dunedin’s Paddy Ou, who previously led his school, John McGlashan, to the South Island title and national semifinals, will be number one seed followed by Ryan Eggers, who took out the Otago Indoor Tennis Open title in September.
Robin Jamieson will be the highest seeded player from Oamaru and will hope to be the first local to lift the title since Peter Ross in 2001.
“The level of men that are playing in the finals and semi finals will be great tennis, you’ve got some really fit young men who are going to hammer it out, but this might finally be Robin’s year to get his hands on the open title,” said Dellaway.
Dellaway said the North Otago Tennis Association is now working to have the North Otago Open reclassed, with the eventual goal of becoming a New Zealand Grass Court Open.
“Our aim is to work towards becoming a New Zealand Open, we’ve already been in talks with Tennis NZ so next year we’ll look to be classed as a South Island Grass Court Open, and then going through to a New Zealand grass court open. In order for us to do that we really need a big sponsor, any sponsor would be good for a start.”
Entry will be free for spectators with the action beginning at 9.30am on Saturday.
“We’d like to see a lot of spectators come along,” said Dellaway.
“It’s free entry, It’s going to be some of the best tennis played in the southern region here on the grass this weekend. There’s a lot of local people to support, going up against outsiders, so I’d expect a few spectators especially going in to Sunday with the finals.”
By James Ford