Michael Burgess

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

Tennis: Kiwis once had a shot at grand slam glory

Onny Parun made the Australian Open final in 1973. Photo / NZ Herald
Onny Parun made the Australian Open final in 1973. Photo / NZ Herald

They are an extremely rare sight today - near extinct - but in past decades, Kiwis regularly featured in the Australian Open main draw. Players such as Onny Parun and Brian Fairlie in the 1970s, Chris Lewis, Russell Simpson, Belinda Cordwell and Kelly Evernden in the 1980s and Brett Steven in the 1990s carved out some magic moments for the sport at Australasia's grand slam.

Onny Parun, 1973
The field was half the size of today's (64) but Parun's effort in reaching the final was a brilliant achievement. He beat an Austrian, Russian, German and two Australians (including Geoff Masters, now a popular commentator) to make the final, where he faced seven-time major winner John Newcombe. After losing the first set, Parun took the second but couldn't hang on, eventually losing 3-6 7-6 5-7 2-6. Along with Chris Lewis (Wimbledon in 1983), Parun remains the only Kiwi to reach a grand slam decider in the modern era (post-1968).

Chris Lewis, 1981
Famous for his 1983 heroics at Wimbledon, Lewis had a solid record in Melbourne, reaching at least the second round on four occasions.

Perhaps his most significant win came in 1981, when he beat five-time grand slam finalist Ilie Nastase 6-4 6-3 6-2 first up before eventually reaching the third round.

Kelly Evernden, 1987
He could be erratic and was famous for interesting post-match comments - he once blamed nearby alligators for a loss of focus during a Florida match - but Gisborne's favourite son could play. Ranked 298 coming into the tournament after an injury lay-off, the 25-year-old thrived in the final edition on the Kooyong Grass. He beat four Americans, including Johan Kriek (No 23), and big serving Derrick Rostagno in a five-set fourth round battle before losing to Australian Wally Masur in the last eight.

Belinda Cordwell, 1989
The female semifinalists were Steffi Graf, Gabriela Sabatini, Czechoslovakia's Helena Sukova and 23-year-old Wellingtonian Cordwell. These were halcyon days for the sport, with her latter matches broadcast across the nation on TV1. While others such as Martina Navratilova (six finals) and Hana Mandlikova (two titles) fell by the wayside, Cordwell marched on. On her way to the last four, she beat Barbara Potter (seventh seed), local hope Beverley Bowes (12-10 in the third set) and three top 10 players (including Brenda Schultz and Catarina Lindqvist) before losing in three sets to then world No 4 Sukova (and two-time finalist in his event) 6-7 6-2 3-6.

Brett Steven, 1993
Making his first appearance in Melbourne, the 23-year-old enjoyed a glorious run. After disposing of an American qualifier in the first round, he hit the headlines in his next match, taking down world No 18 Thomas Muster. He then beat Russian Andrei Olhovskiy (84) before an epic fourth round encounter with Australian No 1 Richard Fromberg. Steven took the first set in a tiebreak before losing the next two. He rallied to win the last two sets, taking the match 7-6 6-7 6-7 6-1 8-6. Steven, then ranked 71, met Pete Sampras in the quarter-finals. With much of New Zealand glued to free-to-air coverage, Steven broke the American's serve once and sent down 11 aces in a creditable 3-6 2-6 3-6 defeat.

Brett Steven, 1996
Entering the tournament as world No 37, Steven repeated his 1993 heroics with a great run in the first week. He won three rounds - including a defeat of world No 24 Jan Siemerink before running into Boris Becker in the round of 16. Becker went on to win the tournament but didn't have it all his own way, with the Kiwi taking the opening set before losing 6-1 4-6 3-6 2-6.

- Herald on Sunday

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