As one tennis star fades another one brightens up
There is something special at either end of the age scale at this summer's WTA tennis tournament in Auckland.
The 33-year-old Venus Williams breezed into town yesterday, with the seven-time Grand Slam winner getting plenty of attention at the airport and also when she took to centre court for a hit.
Meanwhile, celebrating her 16th birthday at the Classic was Croatian Ana Konjuh, who has been given one of the prized main draw wildcards for the tournament.
Williams wasn't talking after her 90 minute training session, where at one point she took a break for what appeared to be a sore wrist.
But earlier at the airport Williams spoke of how much she was looking forward to this tournament and has high expectations of what she might achieve.
"I hope to go round by round and at least get to the finals - that would be awesome," Williams said.
"[I did] a lot of hard work," she said. "I'm glad because now I get to play a match. I don't have to be on the court for five hours, so it's like a bonus.
"I feel like I'm coming into the season as fit and healthy as I have in many years, so for me that's exciting and I have a positive outlook.
"My goal is to be like Serena Williams!"
Unfortunately though, Venus is a bit far off her younger sister these days. While Serena won the French and US Opens this year, Venus has won only one tournament in the past three years, a lowly WTA event in Luxembourg.
But as the sun is setting on her career, it's rising on Konjuh's.
This will be the first time she gets to play in a WTA event, with all of her previous matches being in junior competitions or the lower ranked ITF tournaments.
But such is the hype around her, that some in the know are predicting she could be in the top 10 by the end of 2014.
Ranked 259, she has been given a wildcard to play in Auckland.
She won the singles and doubles junior events at the Australian Open this year and also claimed the singles title at the US Open.
Despite being able to play junior tennis for two more years, she has taken the unique step of deciding to play only senior tournaments from here on in.
Of course, there are no certainties in sport and especially so in women's tennis, where so many promising players fail to reach their potential.
But if there's one player who looks destined to make it more than any other from over the last few years it's Konjuh.
While she is grateful of getting the opportunity to play in the main draw at the Classic, it has meant she's missed celebrating Christmas, her birthday and seeing in the new year with her friends and family, a big deal for someone so young.
"I was a bit sad when I heard that I'm coming here, but then again this is a great experience for me and right now I'm glad to be here," Konjuh said.
"It is great to be given a wildcard and hopefully I'll give my best."
Tournament director Karl Budge has made the astute move of signing up Konjuh for the next three years, which means that if she lives up to the hype around her, he's already locked away one of the best young sensations.
There doesn't seem to be anything brattish about Konjuh, her life must have revolved around nothing other than tennis to get her to where she is now, yet she comes across as a personable character.
Quitting junior tennis is a radical move, but it's not something that's been driven by a big ego, but the belief that playing against women will be the better way for her to develop her game.
"This is a new step for me," she said.
"It is a bit different between juniors and WTA tournaments and I'm really glad that I've finished with juniors.
"I'm going to learn a lot and will get to practice with these girls. They're more experienced than me and I'll get a chance to play with them."
Meanwhile, Britain's Laura Robson was forced to withdraw from the Classic yesterday with a wrist injury.
Her absence means that a wildcard has been given to Tamira Paszek from Austria, who has a world ranking of 179.