Promising Hawke's Bay tennis players need to train more, have more matchplay and more tournaments.
That's the advice from former New Zealand Davis Cup player Dan Willman, who has been based in the Bay for the past four months, running the Havelock North club's high-performance programme for club professional Shane Wilson.
"Since I've been in the Bay I've seen other sports like rugby, hockey and rowing thriving because they all have a good culture. We can do it in tennis," Willman said.
"Sean Davies [Tennis Eastern's development officer] is passionate and wants to see tennis in the region go to the next level. Adding more tournaments takes more money, so if we can get more passionate people involved with financial backing that will help ... it's a similar situation with tennis throughout New Zealand, the culture needs to change," Willman explained.
The 43-year-old former Kiwi No 1 remembers his days on the pro circuit when he had respective career high world singles and doubles rankings of 285 and 569 in 2002.
"It was a good life, travelling the world and playing in tournaments. But I ran out of money. Hopefully Rob doesn't end up in the same boat ... he needs backing," Willman said, referring to the Bay's No 1 man, Rob Reynolds, who he will play alongside when Hawke's Bay challenges Taranaki for the Christie Cup, the symbol of Central Districts tennis supremacy, in New Plymouth today.
A father of two, including 11-year-old son Finn who plays at the Havelock North club, Willman, has coached players throughout the world from junior to professional level. In 2005 and 2006 he was the New Zealand under-12s and under-14s teams coach and selector.
He travelled the globe with these teams and in 2006 coached the New Zealand under-14s to a fourth place at the World Junior Davis Cup tournament in the Czech Republic. Willman then had a stint in the United States, where he was involved in reshaping local and national junior federations, managing facilities, running national training camps and implementing two high-performance academies.
In 2010 he founded and directed the high-performance programme at Seattle's Central Park Tennis Club and received the Olympic Committee United States Tennis Association's Developmental Coach of the Year award. In 2012 Willman opened Northwest High Performance Tennis Centre, one of only five high-performance centres in the states at the time. The centre went on to produce national-level players.
"Hawke's Bay reminds me a lot of Seattle, where I worked with a lot of passionate coaches. We didn't have a lot of players coming through and it was never about one person ... it was always about a team," North Shore-raised Willman said.
He pointed out tennis players should know by the time they are 12 or 13 if tennis is their No 1 sport.
"That's when they should make it their sole sport. When they are under-12 they should play lots of sports ... I spent nine years playing rugby and tennis before making tennis the priority," Willman recalled.
When Willman played for Hawke's Bay in their 17-7 loss to Manawatu in October it was his first taste of matchplay in 12 years. He had a doubles win and singles loss in that fixture and will aim to go unbeaten at the Rotokare club today.
"I'm happy to help out at rep level until the young players are ready to step up, and then I will stand down," Willman said.
Hawke's Bay are missing the services of former No 1 man Luke Donovan following his recent wedding; regular No 2 Rynold Timothy, who has work commitments; and versatile national seniors champion Craig Giddy, who is playing in a seniors tournament.
"We've still got a good men's team and there are some promising girls in our women's team ... it should be a tight contest," Willman added.
The Christie Cup has been played for since 1926 and uses a challenge format similar to the Ranfurly Shield in rugby. Taranaki were struggling for male and female players in the four to six positions when contacted yesterday, so if the visitors play to their potential they could record a 14-12 victory and return home with the cup.
The Hawke's Bay team is:
Men: Rob Reynolds, Daniel Rowe, Dan Willman, Jakim Malan, Albert Hailes, Hamish Lee, Ron Garrick.
Women: Jane Wyllie, Sophia Nash, Alex Cave, Sam Cave, Abby Oliver, Fi Gordon, Stacey Margerison, Liana Hall.