Good at giving rivals the run around

20:00, Sep 20 2012
Lee Harborne
Serving up success: Marlborough teenager Lee Harborne is one of the province’s rising tennis stars.

Size and power are crucial in many sports, but in tennis there has always been a place for those who rely more on pace, skill and smarts to bring them success. Clay Wilson chatted to a Marlborough teenager starting to make his mark at national level and proving it's not all about how big you are or how hard you hit.

He may love watching rugby on TV and be a wealth of knowledge when it comes to facts and figures on our beloved national game, but it is on a tennis court where Lee Harborne excels as a sportperson.

Coming towards the end of his first year at Marlborough Boys' College, the 14-year-old is one of several young Marlborough tennis players stamping their mark on the regional and national scene.

Last weekend he played in the 14 and under age grade for Tasman in Wellington and this weekend he crosses the Cook Strait again as one of just four Marlborough players in the Canterbury junior side taking on their Central region counterparts.

Making a full-strength Canterbury team is no mean feat, but for a teenager who has had success throughout his young career and continues to climb up the national rankings, the selection is simply a natural progression.

A born and bred Marlburian, Lee took up tennis soon after starting at Rapaura School and he said it was not long before it became a bigger and bigger part of his life.


"When I was about 5 or 6, my teacher Mrs Taylor, had a tennis racquet and we always used to play at school. Then I started bringing [the racquet] home and after that I started playing properly.

"I was 8 when I played in my first tournament. I got third equal in the 10 and unders at the Marlborough Open. The year after that I got second in the 10 and unders when I was 9 and then when I was 10 I won [the 10 and unders]."

From there success has continued to flow. He won the Marlborough Open 12 and unders as the fifth seed, beating the fourth, third and first seeds in the process. Two weeks after that he won the Nelson Open, knocking over the top ranked 12 and under player in the South Island, and fifth ranked player in the country, 6-3 6-0 to take the title. For one year at Rapaura and two years at Bohally Intermediate he went undefeated in the Saturday morning primary schools competition.

Last season Lee successfully made the step up to premier interclub at the age of just 13. Not content with just holding his own, he went through the competition without losing a singles match as his Marlborough Sting team finished runners-up. In the final, Sting were beaten 5-1 by the Marlborough Pumas, the lone Sting point coming via Lee's singles victory.

Slightly-built, compared to a lot of players in his age grade, what Lee lacks in power he makes up for with strong technical skills and his ability to read a match and adjust his game plan. When asked what he enjoys about tennis, his answer certainly reflects his approach to the game, too.

"I've just always liked playing tennis. I like making people run around when you are just standing in the middle of the court."

Tennis isn't Lee's only sporting talent. Like many tennis players, he is also a very good at table tennis and last month won the under-15 singles crown at the Marlborough Closed Championships. In the winter months, he plays football for the Blenheim Valley club and was a rep age grade player until his tennis commitments stepped up a notch three years ago.

Along with main coaches John Gardiner and Reilly Quirk, family friend Neil Sonne, who was Lee's doubles partner in premier interclub last season, has played an important role in Lee's tennis development.

There is never a lack of family support, either. Older sister Paula is also a handy tennis and table tennis exponent, father Ian a former rugby player and runner, while mum Catherine has done several GrapeRides and used to compete in triathlons.

Lee is the No 1 ranked 14 and under player in Marlborough and No 2 in the province in both the 16 and under and 18 and under grades. Nationally, he is ranked 45th in 14 and under, but for the nationals in January that is likely to be closer to 30.

He has also beaten the 13th ranked player in the country the last two times they have met and a top 16 or quarterfinal placing is not out of the question if Lee performs well at the nationals.

Beyond that he has no specific goals and simply hopes to keep improving and be the best he can be. However the future pans out, though, it appears tennis is set to be a part of Lee's life for a while yet.

"When I was little I wanted to be a professional tennis player . . . I want to stay involved with it and if I don't make it as a player I've thought maybe being a coach would be cool."


Name: Lee Harborne.
Nickname: Nothing I can repeat.
Born: Blenheim, July 27, 1998.
Educated: Rapaura School, Bohally Intermediate, Marlborough Boys’ College.
Earliest sporting hero: Fernando Gonzalez.
Latest sporting heroes: Lelia Masaga and Sona Taumalolo.
Must-watch TV programme: All Blacks matches.
Must-have food: Noodles.
What’s hot on your MP3 player (walkman/stereo): No time to listen to any.
Favourite holiday spot: Rarotonga.
Superstitions: Don’t have any.
Pet hates: Bad weather affecting how I play tennis.
Fashion crime: Striped pyjamas.
Favourite sporting moment: Winning two open tennis tournaments in a row seeded fifth and third.
Worst sporting moment: Losing to anyone I know I can beat.
In five years I’ll be: 19.

The Marlborough Express