By Jake Beleski
Young tennis prodigy Jade Lewis represents the next chapter in a so far fruitless campaign to find New Zealand’s first Grand Slam women’s champion.
The 18-year-old was this week granted a wildcard into New Zealand’s premier tennis tournament, the ASB Classic.
It will be the first time two Kiwis have been in the main draw since 2012, when Marina Erakovic and Sacha Jones competed.
Tournament director Karl Budge has labelled Lewis one of our most exciting tennis prospects, and her family ties will only add to the pressure in her first main draw event at the highest level.
She is the niece of Chris Lewis, who reached the 1983 Wimbledon final only to be trounced in straight sets by John McEnroe.
New Zealand’s pursuit of a tennis talent capable of mixing it with the biggest names has been long and painful, and the numbers reinforce just how unsuccessful it has been.
Erakovic has carried the flag for women’s tennis for some time, but the closest she has gone to a Grand Slam title is her four third-round exits.
We pride ourselves on punching above our weight on the sporting stage, and in a number of sports we manage this year after year.
Tennis has been left behind, and there are many potential reasons for this.
Players from America and Europe have the best facilities and tournaments on their doorsteps, while New Zealand’s youngsters dreaming of Grand Slam glory have to deal with our country’s isolation and the lack of priority that tennis is given.
But those barriers can be overcome.
Our most talented players are given scholarships to play and study in America, and Lewis is one of many who have spent time plying their trade overseas.
Anthony Wilding remains New Zealand’s only Grand Slam singles champion to date, winning the Australian Open in 1906 and 1909, as well as Wimbledon in 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1913.
In the 103 years since his last title we have had two men’s Grand Slam finalists, and zero women’s finalists.
During that time America has collared a grand total of 288 men’s and women’s singles titles, Australia 154, and the United Kingdom has 36.
Tennis is far from our national sport, but you would expect our figures to read more favourably than that.
The fact that none of our players being trained overseas have pushed on is surprising, but Lewis may just have the talent and genetics required to become a genuine threat at the top level.
If she can learn a thing or two from 22-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams next week, we might just be looking at our best hope of claiming a Grand Slam crown in the future.