By Matt Brown
For a sport that has been in the doldrums for so long, tennis in New Zealand at last has someone to savour, a Grand Slam doubles champion.
29 year old Aucklander Michael Venus and his American doubles partner Ryan Harrison have won the French Open with a straight sets 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (7-4) 6-3 win in the final over Mexican Santiago Gonzalez and American Donald Young in a final lasting two hours and 14 minutes. It was the first Roland Garros doubles final featuring two unseeded teams since 1993 and the first without a player from a European nation since 1982.
"It's very special, a bit shattered right now, but also very very excited." Venus said.
"This is what you dream about playing in these tournaments and these occasions so to play like we did and come away with the trophy is unbelievable." Venus said.
Venus and Harrison played superbly throughout the first set and fashioned four break points against their opponents serve. But they couldn't convert and Venus was forced to dig deep and save three break points from 0-40 late in the set.
Venus served out a tight tiebreaker with the first set lasting 51 minutes. It was the first time in the tournament the Kiwi/American combination had won a first set in their matches.
"We kept composed in the first set, fought out of a little hole and played a great tie breaker." Venus said.
The second set was equally tight with just one break point created against the Venus serve. It went to a tiebreaker and again Venus and Harrison went up a mini break early at 3-1 but then lost five straight points and Young and Gonzalez closed it out 7 point to 4 to force a decider.
"At the change of ends Ryan said to me, we have won all our other matches in three sets so why wouldn't we do it today."
The third set went with serve until the 6th game when Gonzalez double faulted at 30-40 to hand the break to Venus and Harrison. Venus was then broken after a lengthy game but Young double faulted to hand the break back and Harrison then served it out on his second match point.
"They played a good game on my serve and I guess with the occasion it's not going to go all well and got broken but we managed to break back and Ryan said at the change of ends, don't worry I've got this." Venus said.
It's a remarkable triumph in so many respects. Venus and Harrison only teamed up together for the start of the clay court season, winning their first ATP tournament in Estoril. Great friends since their US college days, Venus was a groomsman at Harrison's wedding last year, the Kiwi hadn't won a set Roland Garros in three previous first round appearances. Clay is his worst surface, or was, growing up in New Zealand where there are no clay courts.
Venus has become New Zealand's first Grand Slam men's champion since Onny Parun won the doubles here in 1974. Parun and Australian Dick Crealy beat American's Robert Lutz and Stan Smith in the final.
He is the fifth New Zealander to win a Grand Slam doubles title after Anthony Wilding, Harry Parker, Parun and Judy Chaloner.
He says the support from his mum Lynne, and partner Sally was instrumental.
"very special to have my mum over here for this, she has been here throughout my career and to have my girlfriend Sally who has been so supportive over the past year or two which has been tough for the family (Venus's dad Dave died in April last year from cancer) He will be looking down watching this and having a beer and a big smile on his face and I am sure he would be very proud right now."
Venus is projected to rise as high as 15 in the ATP doubles rankings when they come out on Monday.
"I didn't know the ranking would go that high and I will be able to look at the schedule for the rest of the year and plan accordingly which is great to be able to put in some more breaks and enjoy the experience and not have to jump from tournament to tournament." Venus said.
To say the triumph sets up his season is an understatement. Financially Venus and Harrison pocket 540,000 Euros between them, ($850,000), Venus won't need to worry about finding the cheapest Air B&B or international roaming charges on his mobile for a while. His ranking and status as a Grand Slam doubles champion will enhance his reputation and respect around the locker room. He will be able to get into the lucrative Masters 1000 tournaments (the tier below Grand Slam level) where in Montreal and Cincinnati in August, the field is restricted to 16 teams. Venus assuming he finds a high enough ranked partner will be among them.
Venus and Harrison were intending to go their separate ways with Harrison opting not to play doubles at Wimbledon due to the best of five sets format and wanting to concentrate on singles where he is ranked 41 in the world.
But the American hinted at the post match media conference that he may decide to now play doubles at the All England Club.
Venus is due to team up with Brazilian Andre Sa for the grass court season leading into Wimbledon. However the Kiwi was caught on the hop by Harrison's comments.
"That's the first I heard him say anything, we will be up there in the race to London and my ranking will be way up there. So over the next couple of days I will chat to him and see what he's thinking. Obviously singles is his priority and he won't want to play doubles every week so I need to figure out what's the right play." Venus said.
Matt Brown is in Paris thanks to Emirates Airline
Matt Brown is in Paris thanks to Emirates Airline