Sports editor Kelly Exelby catches up with former Tauranga resident and New Zealand Davis Cup captain Marcel Vos before next month's tie at Baypark's TECT Arena
Marcel Vos tried to get last year's Oceania Group I Davis Cup tie against Pakistan switched from Hawera to Tauranga's TECT Arena, although the non-playing captain's enthusiasm was slightly misguided, with tradesmen still putting the finishing touches to the $41 million indoor stadium at the time New Zealand was beating the Philippines 5-0.
Vos, who has spent the past 15 years living in Papamoa, said to bring the Davis Cup to Tauranga was a dream come true and he urged tennis fans to get out and support the February 10-12 tie against Uzbekistan.
"For me it's quite a story personally, having put such a lot of time and effort into my home town, Tauranga, and then with the opportunity to bring the team back here for the first time, it's just so great," Vos said.
"I knew we had a home tie last July and knew an indoor venue was being built so I went along for a visit to see how it would stack up. It wasn't being finished till August so the timing was off, but Tauranga popped up on the radar again and the stadium met all the [ITF] specs."
Uzbekistan was the only country New Zealand could have drawn to play at home, with No1 seeds India, Australia, South Korea, China and Chinese-Taipei all away ties.
Vos leaves today with Davis Cup players Michael Venus, Artem Sitak and Rubin Statham for ITF Challenger tournaments in Hawaii and Tasmania before the team, yet to be finalised, arrive in Tauranga on February 4 for a week-long buildup.
Vos has to cut one player from the five in his squad - Venus, Sitak, Statham, Dan King-Turner and Marcus Daniell - for the Uzbekistan clash. He has forwarded his picks to the ITF but won't give anything away until the team has to be named publicly on January 30.
Venus, knocked out in the first round of the Heineken Open last week, is the highest-ranked Kiwi at 372 in the world and is a shoo-in for one of the singles spots, with Sitak likely to be the other after he got through to the final round of qualifying in Auckland.
Venus and Dan King-Turner's semifinal exit in the doubles and Statham's involvement last year should see them get the nod, leaving Daniell in the cold.
Uzbekistan are likely to be spearheaded by world No60 Denis Istomin, with back-up from 261-ranked Farrukh Dustov, with both players involved last year when Uzbekistan won 3-2 at home (after taking a 3-0 lead) against New Zealand.
Venus' world ranking is worse than last year and Vos said there was no easy solution to New Zealand getting another player inside the world's top 100, something that hadn't happened since Brett Steven in the 1990s.
"Movement in world tennis isn't an easy feat and all our guys are in their early 20s, while the average age of a top 100 player is 27, so there's still improvement to be made.
"What we have created in the last year is more depth in our Davis Cup team and renewed interest ... and although everyone becomes an expert during the Heineken and ASB Classic weeks, tennis is a highly professional, global sport and it isn't easy to bring top-100 players through."
Baypark's indoor stadium will be decked out with the kitset-style of Rebound Ace Synpave playing surface used for the past three Davis Cup ties in New Zealand.
Vos wants a volley of noise from the Tauranga crowd, saying Davis Cup was different from a typical tennis tournament.
"It's unique, not only because it's the largest annual team event of any sport in the world but also because of the role home support plays. We're able to dictate on what surface and where we want to play but the crowd will also play a big part ..."