Tennis ace to thrill home fans

By Jared Smith,

It's all about sacrifice and Paige Hourigan is determined to repay those who have done it for her.

The Wanganui teenage tennis sensation is looking at a big day of fulfilling playing commitments when she takes to the Bassett St courts this afternoon against former New Zealand player Tracey O'Connor in a special fundraiser for her burgeoning international career.

But before that, the 16-year-old must play doubles and singles matches for her Auckland school St Kentigern College this morning.

From there it's a mad dash to the plane, where she will meet up with her Auckland opponent, for the flight to Wanganui and "straight to the courts" for the 5pm match.

Mother Tracy Hourigan, anxious for her daughter to get through the day, said the school matches would only be one-set affairs.

"If it had been a full match we would have been 'no'."

Now at the pivotal crossroads in a tennis career when the passport starts to fill up with stamps of exotic countries, Paige's match-up with O'Connor came at an important time, her mother said.

After the dizzying heights of a domestic season where she won national titles, earned a wildcard to the ASB Tennis Classic, represented New Zealand in the Australian Tennis League and starred in Wanganui's Christie Cup success, the teenager was brought down to earth with a thump in recent weeks.

Her visits to Thailand and Malaysia to compete in Grade 1 International Tennis Federation tournaments did not yield success, being bundled out first up both times.

"She thought she was playing beautifully until she got over there, so she's not in a good place now," said Tracy Hourigan. "Her confidence took a battering.

"I told her, she just needs to play more games."

The travel and training costs of these experiences start to add up. Although her parents and management team handle the expenses so she can just focus on playing, Paige is aware of just how much a dream can cost.

"I was talking about it with my mum the other day, she asked 'do you know how much we spend on you'?

"She said that they spend at least $60,000 a year."

So in what will become a even rarer opportunity for the Wanganui public, who are paying for the privilege today, to see the prodigy play against a quality opponent, Hourigan wants to put on a show.

It will be the third time she and O'Connor have squared up.

"The first one was really close, but I won both times," Hourigan said.

"I suppose it's a little bit of pressure but it's just cool to play in front of a big crowd.

"I've improved my serve a lot, I'll just try and attack and show all aspects of my game."

The money raised will be a big help as Hourigan looks ahead to a massive remainder of 2013.

Her St Kentigern school team is off to the world secondary school team championships in Australia.

She will represent New Zealand again in Korea, and then spend 11 weeks touring around Europe.

Today's match-up is due to start at about 5pm at the Wanganui Tennis Club.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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