Junior pair serve up surprise ITF win

TIM BARTON
Last updated 08:20 12/02/2014
alex calder
Photo: Cameron Burnell/Fairfax NZ

ON THE RISE: New Zealand 16 & Under champion Alex Calder in action at the ITF Tournament in Wellington last week.

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Wellington's emerging tennis players are starting to make a mark on the national scene.

Alex Calder (Hutt Valley High School) won the national 16s title in Hamilton last month and Dom Miller (Scots College) and Zach Whaanga (Paraparaumu College) won the doubles title at the grade four junior ITF tournament in Wellington last week.

Kiranpal Pannu (Wellington College) and Pratt Keerasuntonpong (Tawa College) are also making an impression in the juniors.

Wins in ITF tournaments are rare events and Miller and Whaanga did not have high expectations for Wellington, after being seeded seventh for the doubles.

They had a tough quarter-final match against an Australian combination, winning the tiebreak 12-10 in the third set and were not confident going into the final against a Japanese pair.

"We weren't really expecting to win," Miller said. "Both the Japanese players had done better than us in the singles.

"But we both played pretty well and I think we played better as a team.

"We have been playing doubles together for ages and that helps. But that was our first final at an ITF tournament and it was pretty intense. We had got to the semifinals before but in lower grade tournaments."

Miller and Whaanga won the first set 7-5 and had three match points at 5-3 in the second set but needed to go to a tiebreak to win the set, with Whaanga producing an ace to seal the victory.

The pair are members of a junior Tennis Central squad coached by Clint Packer and Joel Barr.

"It was a pretty good effort [to win in Wellington]," Barr said. "But they combine well together and complement each other.

"Dom is strong from the baseline and makes a lot of balls, while Zach is bit more of a power player, with a big forehand."

Whaanga and Miller are both year 13 students and keen to look at options for college scholarships in the United States.

Miller's older brother, Lucas, who lefts Scots last year, will join former Paraparaumu College player Mitchell McDonald in the tennis squad at Catawba College, in North Carolina, later this year.

Miller and Whaanga are competing in the New Zealand ITF junior summer championships in Auckland this week but met tough opposition in the grade three event.

They were unseeded for the doubles and went out in the first round after meeting the fourth seeds, from Japan.

Miller also lost in the first round of the singles, while Whaanga won his first round match but was down to meet the top seed in the second round.

Pannu, who is coming back from injury, made the third round of the singles in Wellington and Keerasuntonpong, who lost to Miller and Whaanga in the doubles semi-final in Wellington, won his first round singles match in Auckland on Monday.

Calder, a year 11 pupil, completed a notable age-group treble when taking the 16 and under title.

The 15-year-old had won the 14 and under championships last year and took the 12 and under title in 2011.

"It was a big effort and he [Calder] has a lot of potential," Barr said.

"His court speed is very good and he gets a lot of balls.

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"He's very quick and fit but can also hit a big serve and forehand."

Calder, who will be eligible for the 16 championships again next summer, was only the fourth seed this year but did not drop a set on his way to the title.

"I wasn't really expecting to win with that seeding," he said.

"But it also meant there was less pressure on me and I was probably more relaxed than usual. It was definitely my best win yet."

Calder played in the Wellington ITF tournament last week and won his first round in the singles, before going down 6-3 6-2 to the tournament top seed.

- The Dominion Post

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