Sacha Jones explains defection to Australia

Tennis NZ to consider loyalty contracts

DAVID LONG AND FLETA PAGE
Last updated 06:48 29/12/2011
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FAIRFAX NZ

GOODBYE, NZ: Kiwi tennis pro Sacha Jones is switching allegiances to Australia.

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It may seem like Sacha Jones, New Zealand's No2 tennis player, has turned her back on the country of her birth by deciding to become an Australian after next week's ASB Classic, but she believes she was left with little choice.

The 21-year-old, who has a world ranking of 274, has decided to switch nationalities thanks to her father being born in Australia and she'll now be able to draw upon the huge resources Tennis Australia has, rather than the limited help Tennis NZ can offer her.

Her career stalled this year as she struggled to support herself on the circuit, but that will all change when she becomes an Aussie and has a fulltime coach travel everywhere with her, paid for by Tennis Australia.

"At the end of the day, my career comes first," said Jones, whose brother GD was forced to quit the sport because of similar financial issues a couple of years ago.

"It was a really hard decision to make and I've been thinking about it for a few years now. I can get a passport easily and the resources they can offer me there are far more than I can get here.

"It's just the way it is. Tennis NZ don't get the funding because of the way Sparc are structured and at the end of the day it's about me giving myself the best opportunity I can.

"So it was a tough decision, but one that needed to be made."

Sparc continues to ignore Tennis NZ's pleas for financial help to support players when they're trying to make it up the rankings, and Jones admits that if there was that financial backing for her she would have remained a Kiwi.

"I hope people will understand that I'm just trying to be the best player I can be. I have been playing for New Zealand internationally since I was 11 years old and the Fed Cup has always been high up my priority list. It's just unfortunate that this is the way it is."

Jones had been privately given a wildcard to the ASB Classic before she decided to make the switch and she's unsure how the crowds in Auckland will treat her next week.

"I really don't know what reaction I'll get, but I wanted to retain the tournament's integrity and I told Richard [Palmer, tournament director] what I was doing before he made the wildcard public knowledge.

"I feel I've done what I can for New Zealand tennis and for him to let me still have the wildcard is fabulous."

While Jones will soon be an Australian, she still has fears for the future of tennis in New Zealand and younger players' aspirations to make it into the big time.

"Until the funding situation changes it's going to be really difficult to come through," she said.

"Marina [Erakovic] did well but I'm sure she had times where she was struggling financially. All tennis players in New Zealand struggle.

"But Tennis NZ are doing all they can with what they've got and it's going to take something from Sparc in funding for the young players coming through to change anything."

Tennis New Zealand have revealed they will now consider writing loyalty clauses into the contracts of up-and-coming players.

Tennis NZ chief executive Steve Johns said the news of Jones switch ''came as a huge surprise and shock'' to the organisation, which he said had made a significant investment in the player.

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''It'd be hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last five or six years,'' he said.

''For Tennis New Zealand, that's a significant amount of money. To put it into perspective, our annual turnover is just shy of $3 million, Tennis Australia's is about $160 million.''

When Jones told her national federation two weeks ago of her intention to switch allegiances, it exposed a vulnerability Tennis NZ hadn't anticipated.

''We haven't in the past had very tight contracts with our players that said if they did decide to switch nationalities, they would have to do x, y and z. It's been all a bit more about loyalty and people wanting to play for NZ,'' Johns said.

''That's something we're certainly going to have to look at going forward because we just want to make sure that our players - if they're in a position where they can change nationalities - that they realise there may be some sort of compensation or something that needs to be paid back to Tennis NZ for the investment that's been put into them.''

Tennis NZ had talks in a bid to retain Jones but soon realised it could not compete with what Tennis Australia had to offer.

''We had some good conversations with Tennis Australia about what was being offered and we had a lot of phone calls going around the Tennis NZ board as to whether we could put something together that would keep her in New Zealand,'' Johns said.

''But at the end of the day, it came down to the fact that we couldn't match their resources. Also, Sacha said to us that it wasn't just the money, it was about being a part of a bigger program and being with more girls of a higher ranking, more touring opportunities and more wildcards.''

"We are concerned that this sends a message that we could become an incubator for young players and then they take off overseas.

"But we came to the realisation that we can't match the resources of Australia and it's the nature of professional sport."touring opportunities and more wildcards.''

- Stuff

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