Former federation Cup tennis captain Pavlina Nola is set for a shock comeback to the sport.
In the wake of Sacha Jones' recent defection to Australia there have been concerns about the immediate viability of our Federation Cup team but Nola has put her hand up. Now aged 37, Nola hasn't played professionally for almost a decade but believes she can contribute.
"I'm happy to do whatever I can to help," Nola told the Herald on Sunday, "whether it is playing singles, doubles or being a mentor. It is crucial that this team continues and I know I can still do a job at that level."
Nola says the idea of a comeback first crossed her mind last year, after last minute injury withdrawals from Marina Erakovic and Jones meant that New Zealand decided not to send a team to the Asia/Oceania Group I tournament in Thailand in last Feburary, our first Federation Cup no-show in 40 years. That resulted in a one year ban for New Zealand and an automatic demotion to Asia zone group two.
When New Zealand play again in 2013, it will be against Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka. Their best results at that level came in 1965 and 1971 when they made it to the quarter-finals of the world group.
"The events of last year were really disappointing, just after we were starting to get some good results at that level. I'm passionate about New Zealand tennis and we need to do what we can to help Marina - she is playing at such a good level now."
Nola, who was an expert commentator for Sky during the ASB Classic last week, says the idea of a return firmed up with the announcement from Jones.
"Now Sacha has gone there is obviously a gap," says Nola. "I know Marina very well and if I can help there, I will."
New Zealander-turned-Australian Sacha Jones is the last local qualifier left battling for a place at the Hobart International tournament. The 21-year-old, who officially switched allegiance this week, beat Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova 6-3 6-2 in the second round of qualifying. The former Kiwi No2's victory came after she had beaten Romanian Alexandra Cadantu in the first round on Friday.
Nola, who turned professional in 1995, reached a career high of 68th in the world in 2001. She played the main draw of all four grand slams and was runner-up at the WTA tournament in Palermo in 2000. She played Federation Cup for Bulgaria for three years in the world group, before switching to New Zealand in 2000 and was the last Kiwi to reach a grand slam (in 2002) before Erakovic in 2008.
Nola was captain of the New Zealand Federation Cup team from 2004 to 2006 and was at one point coach of Erakovic for a period of six months. Currently a full time tennis coach at two clubs in Auckland, she has built up a formidable record over the past few years in Chelsea Cup and Caro Bowl.
"I'm not saying they have to pick me," says Nola, "but I am certainly available and hope to help in any way possible."
Meanwhile, in a rain-disturbed women's doubles finals at the ASB Classic last night - moved indoors by the persistent poor weather - the profesionalism of aspiring doubles combination Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka shone as they took their sixth WTA title. The Czech pair beat today's singles finallist Flavia Pennetta and her first-time doubles partner Julia Goerges 6-7 (7-2), 6-2, 10-7 as a crowd of several hundred flocked into the undercover practice courts at the back of the Auckland tennis centre. Pennetta's chance to become the first player since Katarina Srebotnik in 2005 to win the singles and doubles crown at the ASB Classic was also ended.
Pennetta produced drop shots and lobs to infuriate while Goerges' forehand from the back court rifled regularly across the Czech bows, as did useful backspin shots which scythed across court.
Hlavackova had a dismissive forehand to match, particularly when ducked down ready to pounce after her partner's serve. Hradecka was emphatic close to the net. They are not the defending French Open champions for nothing. Additional reporting by Andrew Alderson