Tennis: Kiwi duo's big expectations for 2016

By Michael Burgess at the ASB Classic

Kiwi's Marcus Daniell (right) and doubles partner Artem Sitak celebrate the win after they knocked out number 1 seeds Juan Sebastian and Robert Farah, of Columbia. Photo / Nick Reed
Kiwi's Marcus Daniell (right) and doubles partner Artem Sitak celebrate the win after they knocked out number 1 seeds Juan Sebastian and Robert Farah, of Columbia. Photo / Nick Reed

Artem Sitak and Marcus Daniell aim to become one of the best doubles combinations in this country's history - and hope an Olympic dream can drive them to greater heights this year.

The duo thrilled the crowd at the ASB Classic last night, knocking the top seeds out of the tournament with a 6-2 7-6 (8-6) win.

Colombians Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah are a well established pairing but didn't handle the pressure, or the occasion, as well as Sitak and Daniell.

The New Zealanders revelled in the occasion - but in a way it was also just another day at the office for the pair.

They have been consistent performers on the doubles circuit for the past two years and made history last year by winning an ATP title together in Montpelier, the first all-New Zealand duo to win a trophy in more than 30 years.

"That was an incredible week - it was like we were destined to win," said Daniell.

"We saved a match point in the quarter final and two in the final."

Daniell says the closing stages of that final - against the highly rated duo Dominic Inglot and Florin Mergea - were "just a blur" as they finally prevailed 16-14 in the super tiebreaker, after the first two sets had been split 3-6 6-4.

They became the first Kiwis to win a title together since Chris Lewis and Russell Simpson in Auckland in 1983.

"It was great to make history," said Sitak. " We knew we had good chemistry on court, a good understanding."

Both have made strong gains over the last few years, since focussing on doubles. Sitak has risen from 278 at the start of the 2013 to his current ranking of 44. And this time two years ago Daniell was sitting at 417 in the world - now he is placed at 75.

Their achievements tend to go under the radar here, as they battle away in unfriendly time zones and away from television cameras - so it was good to see some recognition today. As they visited the Moet and Chandon lounge to sign the golf leaf Jeroboam bottle, which has is being auctioned off for charity and features the autographs of Jo Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer, they did print, radio and television interviews.

They have also won respect on the circuit. Both have two Doubles titles, as well as finals appearances and match wins at Grand Slams. And after alternating between partners over the last two year, Sitak and Daniell have comitted to playing together this season.

They aim to represent New Zealand at the 2016 Olympics but they'll need to lift their combined ranking to around 70 to get in.

"We'll need a run at one of the grand slams but it's possible," said Sitak.

"We are just going to get stronger and stronger as a combination."

Sitak and Daniell will face either the American duo of Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson or the European combination of Fabio Fognini and Pablo Andujar in the Classic quarter finals on Wednesday.

- NZ Herald

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