Up until yesterday, one of the most embarrassing statistics in New Zealand sport was that a Kiwi player had not won a match in the main men's draw of a grand slam in 16 years.
In 1998, Brett Steven and his Australian partner, Patrick Galbraith, made it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Since then the only other New Zealand male who has played in a grand slam is James Greenhalgh but he failed to win any of his three doubles matches.
While Marina Erakovic has been flying the flag for New Zealand women's tennis, the men have been nowhere. But that barren run came to an end yesterday when the 26-year-old Michael Venus and his Indian partner, Yuki Bhambri, defeated the Spanish pairing of Roberto Bautista Agut and Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-2 7-5 in the first round of the doubles.
While it is - and let's be honest - only doubles, Venus has achieved a feat that no-one else from New Zealand has done in too long a time.
Venus, who has a ranking of 127 in doubles, 383 in singles, has been slogging it out on the circuit for eight years, picking up just enough money to get by from tiny Futures and Challenger tournaments around the world.
The pair had to win a wildcard qualifying tournament to make it to Melbourne, so for Venus it is something special.
"I'm very pleased with the result; they're obviously very good players, so we knew we'd have to play well," Venus said.
"But Yuki and I have played together a few times, know each other pretty well and work good together.
"So we went out there, tried to play our game and it worked well."
When Steven had his good run at the Australian Open 16 years ago, Venus was a 10-year-old living on Auckland's North Shore. He had been playing tennis for a few years by then as all of his family were mad on the sport and he said to be able to experience what it was like to play at a grand slam was an incredible feeling for him.
"It is exciting to be around here and see what all of the guys are doing," he said.
"Being around these tournaments is what you dream about and do everything for."
In the second round tomorrow the pair will be up against the 10th seeds, Horia Tecau from Romania and Jean-Julien Rojer from the Netherlands.
Tecau will be well known to New Zealanders as in 2010 he teamed up with Kiwi Marcus Daniel to win the doubles at the Heineken Open.
It is a daunting challenge but Venus said he would not be over-awed and could get used to a life playing in grand slams.
"Out there we felt that we could play within ourselves and we felt comfortable on the court," he said of yesterday's match.
"So that shows you, you're right there, you've got to keep plugging away and the results will come."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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