A chance message has led to the ultimate glory for Kiwi Ben McLachlan and his partner Jan Lennard Struff at the ASB Classic.
Around this time last year the duo had never even met, but now they have claimed the doubles title in Auckland, upsetting third seeds Michael Venus and Raven Klaasen 6-3 6-4 in a convincing display.
"He messaged me last year because I had my name on a list looking for a doubles partner for the Australian Open," said McLachlan. "We actually hadn't met at that point and he got my number from someone. I had a good result in Tokyo and I think he had heard about me. He messaged me, asking if I wanted to play. I was pretty stoked to get that message."
The rest is history. In 2018 the duo made a run to the last four in Melbourne, reached three other semifinals and won their first final together in Tokyo.
"It's pretty rare when you play that first tournament with someone and you just click," said Queenstown-born McLachlan. "It's all gone well from there."
It was a memorable day for McLachlan, who served as a ball boy as a youngster at Stanley Street. A promising junior, McLachlan then took the college route in America, before opting to switch allegiance to Japan, the country of his mother's birth, in June 2017.
"It's something I thought about for a long time, even when I was a junior," said McLachlan. "And then I went to college and put that in the back of the mind until I went pro. Japan tennis is pretty big right now, especially with Kei Nishikori and everyone doing really well. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me and my career."
Since that move, in June 2017, McLachlan has rocketed up the rankings, now sitting at a career high No 18 in doubles.
McLachlan and Struff were the outsiders today, but produced a brilliant display, while Venus and Klaasen lacked the edge they had displayed earlier in this tournament.
Like he had done all week, the 1.96m Struff dominated with his power. He produced some booming serves, and showed no mercy with his returns.
"He goes big, he hits big," said Venus. "We knew what was coming. With him, if you don't locate the serves quite right or in the right positions then he is all over it. We missed some spots and he took full advantage."
Struff also produced probably the shot of the tournament with a backhand passing shot hit from near the corporate boxes. Pushed out wide, Struff squeezed his shot around the net post — and between the umpires chair and the net — for a winner. That set up a break point, which was duly converted.
"I was trying to get that ball," said Struff. "It was nice to hit it around the net. If someone else does it to me it doesn't feel that good. It was a nice shot, changed a bit of momentum and sometimes that can happen."
Venus and Klaasen were happy with their week, but disappointed with their output in the decider.
"With the style of tennis that these guys play, there's not many rallies that get past two or three shots," said Klaasen. "You have to be really sharp at the beginning of the point. I wouldn't say we were far off but we weren't allowed as much freedom in this match, and we probably had a smaller margin. It probably wasn't as bad as it seemed, but if we could go back we would like to tighten up a little bit."