Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Venus still rising with rare seeding

Photo / Doug Sherring
Photo / Doug Sherring

Michael Venus has hit a career high and this week will walk out on court at Wimbledon as a seeded doubles player, the first time that has happened for a New Zealander since Brett Steven in 1988.

Venus has won four titles this year - the most of anyone on the ATP tour - propelling him into the world's top 40 for the first time. He's already banked more than $120,000 in prizemoney and, as a measure of his standing, was recently picked by Kei Nishikori as a partner when the Japanese world No 6 wanted a rare shot at doubles.

"Things are going well," said Venus. "In tennis, you have to take things week by week but it's been a good year. Everything has fallen into place and I feel confident about the future."

Venus has shelved his singles ambitions over the last two years to commit himself to doubles and it's paying off. Finding a regular, compatible partner in Croatian Mate Pavic has been the key element.

Venus estimates he had 22 doubles partners in 2014 - "it was the tennis equivalent of speed dating" - but he and Pavic have been an established combination for more than a year. Last year, they reached finals in Bogota and Stockholm, and also made the third round at Wimbledon before falling to the Bryan brothers who have won 16 grand slam doubles titles together.

So far in 2016 they have claimed titles in Auckland, Montpellier, Marseille and s-Hertogenbosch, as well as a final in Nice and made two other semifinal appearances. To put Venus's haul in perspective, in the entire 2000s, no New Zealand male won an ATP doubles event.

"We get on well on and off the court," said Venus. "During matches, I know what he likes to do and vice versa. It becomes instinctive. And in practice you can be very open with each other, working on what you want to improve. That's not the case when you don't have a regular partner, you don't want to give away your weaknesses to a guy you might play the next week."

Improvement has also come from the little details.

"Just being more professional," said Venus. "More attention to stretching and warming up, more planning around practice sessions, better game plans, more scouting of the opposition. Overall, taking better care of body and mind."

Venus (world No 39) and Pavic (34) are on the cusp of breaking in the top 30 as a combination. Entering that elite would mean access to the Masters series, where the serious money is up for grabs.

"We are not putting a limit on where we can end up," said Venus. "At the moment, we are competing with anyone. We are never overawed and know we can play at the top level."

The only negative this year has been their grand slam performances, and they failed to advance beyond the first round in both Melbourne and Paris. That's hurt their bank balance - progressing two rounds at a major is almost as lucrative as winning a regular ATP tournament - but is also impressive, as they have made significant ranking gains without the impetus of a grand slam run.

The next fortnight at SW19 presents an opportunity. As 16th seeds, they avoid any of the top combinations until the third round and will play Australia's Chris Guccione and Brazil's Andre Sa in the first round.

"It's a bonus and hopefully we can make the most of it," said Venus. "But there are no easy matches at a grand slam. You can run into some singles players with nothing to lose."

Marcus Daniell and American Bran Baker face 13th seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah (Colombia) and Artem Sitak and former US Open winner Julian Knowle (Austria) have a tough task against Brazilian Marcelo Demoliner and Pakistan's Aisam Qureshi.

Marina Erakovic will face American Irina Falconi in the first round of the women's singles after she won her third qualifying match to gain a place at the main draw with a 7-6(5) 6-3 victory over Russia's Irina Khromacheva.

Falconi has a current ranking of 72 while Erakovic is 149 in the world. If Erakovic wins her first round, she would play either former world No 1 Jelena Jankovic or Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele.

- Herald on Sunday

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