Promising tennis junior heading for Barcelona

MASTER STROKE: Macsen Sisam will get to develop his skills on clay.
MASTER STROKE: Macsen Sisam will get to develop his skills on clay.

There are not many sports as cut-throat as tennis, where the battle to get to the top is long and hard, and begins at such a young age.

So when Paul and Fiona Sisam realised that their son, Macsen, had a special talent, they decided to up sticks and move the whole family to Spain for the year.

Macsen, 12, will train at the prestigious Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona, which has produced big names Andy Murray, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Marina Erakovic.

The idea to join the academy came from former New Zealand professional Jeff Simpson, who runs Tennis Northern's academy in Albany.

Macsen has already had a few short stints at Sanchez-Casal, but Paul says this time the whole family will take the plunge and move to Barcelona to support him.

"Jeff recommended it when Macsen was 10 years old," Paul told Sunday News.

"He said Macsen is doing really well, you should have a look at this place, so we went there for three months.

"It was an incredible experience and since then we've gone back three more times.

"We planned to go for a year at some stage and this is the best time in his schooling career because he is still at intermediate."

It isn't cheap, the Sanchez-Casal academy's website lists the cost of the 10-month course as being more than $30,000 for the year, but the reality is that there is little chance of making it as a top-100 professional tennis player if you're based solely in New Zealand as a junior.

"I feel pretty glad to get this opportunity, to train with the top players in Europe and play tournaments with them. Also it will be a lot of fun," said Macsen.

He will play tennis for at least three hours every day, and importantly he'll play on clay, the surface widely regarded as the best for young players to develop their skills.

There are no clay courts in New Zealand.

"It is really important [to play on clay] because you learn to be more consistent and more patient," said Macsen.

"The ball comes back a lot more on a clay court because it is slower, you learn to build a point up, to get the short ball and hit a winner."

Macsen's brother and sister will attend a Spanish school in Barcelona, while Macsen will be home-schooled.

"It is a big commitment, but he has been doing very well, and we feel that to give him a real opportunity we have to go there," Paul said.

Macsen is the New Zealand under-12s champion, he played in the New Zealand under-12s and under-14s' teams that competed in the Australian State championship tournament, and he won the Australian under-13 individual title. So there is little left for Macsen to achieve in this part of the world. If he is going to continue pushing himself he needs to play against stronger opposition, which he'll find in Spain.

"We are realistic about it, just because you're good at 12 doesn't mean you're going to be good at 16," said Paul.

"We will see how he progresses and his dream is to be a pro, but a fallback position is that he gets a scholarship to an American university and still gets to play tennis."

While Macsen's parents have been able to pay for this trip, like it is for all players from New Zealand, finance is an issue.

As High Performance Sport New Zealand refuses to give any money to Tennis NZ, the national body has not been able to help financially.

"I don't want to criticise Tennis NZ, but they haven't given any, apart from being in New Zealand teams - they pay a bit towards that," said Paul.

While Macsen's parents want him to represent New Zealand, there is another option open to him, to play for Britain, mum's homeland.

Thanks to profits generated by Wimbledon, Britain's Lawn Tennis Association has millions to throw at developing young players, and Paul acknowledges that it might end up being an option.

"I would much rather he played for New Zealand, but when he is 15 we'd have to look a that, if he is getting absolutely no help from here," Paul said.

"We would hate to do that but you have to be realistic."

Sunday News