Tennis tournament continues as coach mystery plays out

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2013

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It is game point and a three-foot-nothing version of Lleyton Hewitt steps to the service line at the Lugton Park Tennis Club in Hamilton East.

He is decked out in all the fluoro brands of top pros as he tosses the ball skyward - pah!

The ball flies just above the net, curves down and lands in the left corner of the box. His opponent stretches, flails and comes up short.

The serve clinches the game and Lleyton Hewitt junior pumps his fist in triumph. Wednesday afternoon at the Waikato Christmas Junior Tournament is Paul Arber's kind of place.

The Melbourne-based tennis coach should be here to encourage his eight students, ranging from 12 to 16 years old, and offer tips on perfecting their top spin.

But no-one knows where the 38-year-old is or why he disappeared at the corner of Grey and Cook streets on Saturday night.

He was part of a 60-strong Australian group on a tennis tour taking in Hamilton, Gisborne and Auckland.

Tour director Mark Sheppard said every effort was being made to keep everything as normal as possible for the children.

"They've taken it hard, but they've been remarkably resilient," he said, courtside.

"We've tried to keep an abnormal situation normal. We've tried to be honest and open to them all the time."

There is a group talk each day but Mr Sheppard said he took Mr Arber's charges aside a couple of times a day to see how they were coping.

There is counselling if they want it and things are carrying on as if Mr Arber was still in the mix. That means getting up at 6.30am, training on court at 7.30am, and playing hard in competition.

The normal routine of dinner and bed follows. But there is nothing normal about Mr Arber's disappearance. Mr Sheppard called it "nothing short of bizarre".

"They just miss the guy," he said.

"As well as a coach, he's a friend to them. He's highly respected but they love him.

"They've even met [Mr Arber's] mum and dad . . . even [they] concur that Paul would want them to go ahead and play with vigour and be enthusiastic and keen.

"Obviously, it weighs on their mind, but when they're out on the court they're just playing the game.

"It's not going to help not having Paul there . . . but I think they've coped remarkably well and they're still doing their very best."

Despite the mystery, the tour will go on.

Mr Sheppard will stay in contact with Hamilton police but tomorrow the group will pack their minibuses, which have been checked for forensic evidence, and head to Gisborne.

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- Waikato Times

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