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Local Focus: Serving up a New Zealand first on court

Wairarapa’s Red Clay Tennis currently stands one love against all other tennis courts.

Using red clay imported all the way from Italy, construction is under way to create two European club-style courts in the heart of Martinborough.

The red clay courts will be the first in New Zealand.

Tennis coach and land owner Jacob Emery has been coaching for 15 years, he says clay is considered the best surface for development.

He struck on the idea of building the private red clay courts and bought an empty section in 2020 where he now lives with his partner Teresa.

Since then they have built two houses on the site and began working on the tennis courts six months ago.

On clay courts, Jacob says the ball bounces high and slow.

“So then the rallies are longer and you have to play better points to win the point,” Emery said.

“That’s going to also develop your athleticism with it being a little bit slippery.

“Your endurance, with the longer points, the ball grips a little more on the surface so you’re encouraged to spin the ball more.

“There’s lots of little things that add up when you spend more time on the surface to help make you a better player.”

All together 83 tonnes of Italian red clay were imported for the build, followed by 3000 tonnes of river stones and 2500 cubic metres of ground dug up.

Emery said the private tennis courts cost approximately $750,000 to build.

Red clay courts will give New Zealand’s aspiring tennis champions an advantage in their training.

“The idea here is that we’re going to open it up to players from around the country, so they could come up here with their coach or they could work with us,” Emery said.

“Previously they had to go overseas to get experience on clay, so we’re looking to give them a chance to experience that here.

“But also when they go overseas to play on clay, they could start their training block in New Zealand, and it would be a little bit cheaper that way before they head off to clay court events overseas.”

Emery says Red Clay Tennis is going to be a training centre.

“We’re not looking to replace local clubs,” he said.

“There is Martinborough Tennis Club and we’re working with them and all the clubs around the region.

“The idea here is that players would come in and do training blocks, whether it’s just for the weekend or for a week or even longer.

“We could have half a dozen to a dozen players in here at any one time… potentially a few hundred over the year.”

Working with local players is important to Emery’s vision for the sight.

“I’m here with a team of coaches and we’re working throughout the region with all the clubs and the associations.

“We really want to develop some great tennis players out of the region and in the Wairarapa here as well. That’s a big part of what we’re doing, is bringing players in from around the country.”

Most developed countries have clay tennis courts for young players to train on, but despite various attempts, New Zealand does not.

Emery hopes Pacific Island nations can also benefit by sending rising stars to train in New Zealand first.

“Historically New Zealand was strong, we had a good tennis culture, but in the last 50 years the Europeans have taken over,” Emery said.

“In New Zealand, we have some players doing really well in the double circuit, we have a grand slam champion right now who won on clay at the French Open.

“So we have some great individuals, but we’re looking to build the player stocks all round.”

Red Clay Tennis hopes to complete the construction of the courts by the end of November.

public interest journalism ellie

Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco is Wairarapa’s Local Focus video journalist. She regularly covers in-depth stories on arts, culture, people, health, and the occasional pup.

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