Michael Venus enjoyed another rare singles duel at the ASB Classic yesterday, but now wants to pass the baton to the younger brigade.
In his first singles match for a year and a half, Venus put up a typically gutsy performance against defending champion Tennys Sandgren.
He grabbed a break in the first set and had opportunities in the second, but the American was too strong on serve and consistent off the ground, winning 6-4 6-3 in 70 minutes.
Overall Venus was delighted with his level, especially considering he has been solely focused on doubles since 2016.
"That's the most comfortable I've felt on that court playing singles," said Venus. "I felt I could trust my game, didn't need to play outside my comfort zone and it was an unusual feeling. Previously I have always felt I needed to push a little bit more."
"[So] It's a strange feeling. I was disappointed I lost but how I was hitting the ball and how I felt I wish I could have been playing like that 10 years ago and who knows, things could have been different."
Venus has long been an "if only tale" for New Zealand tennis. For various reasons, notably the lack of support from this country, he didn't achieve his potential in singles, but has since carved out an amazing career in doubles, with a French Open title and nine other tournament wins.
But he has remained the go-to option for Auckland wildcards here over the years and has managed some memorable performances.
But as much as he has enjoyed these one-off appearances, Venus says it is time for a new generation.
"Hopefully this time next year the younger guys who are coming through, they have moved up and they can take these opportunities, be out there playing and they can go deep in this tournament," said Venus. "I love playing out there but it would be great for the future of tennis in New Zealand if the young guys move up the rankings, get the opportunity and hopefully they can take it."
At this level it's all about repetition and precision, and Venus hasn't had that luxury.
It was Venus' first singles match for 485 days, since a Davis Cup tie with Korea in September 2018. He hasn't won a tour level singles contest in more than 1000 days, against the same country in Davis Cup in 2017.
After an early exchange of breaks, games went with serve, before consecutive backhand errors at 4-5 gifted Sandgren the set. The Tennessee native was imperious on serve, with 15 aces, including one 215km/h special that seemed to go clean through Venus' racket.
Venus missed two early break opportunities early in the second set and that was his chance, as Sandgren was ruthless from there.
In the fourth game the American won four straight points — from 15-40 down — to gain a lead he was never going to relinquish.
2019 finalist Cameron Norrie fell at the first hurdle, beaten 7-6 (3) 6-2 by Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro in 91 minutes.
The Auckland-raised Norrie, who thrilled the crowds here last year, was philosophical.
"He was too good today, he played the bigger points better than I did and was more aggressive than me."
Norwegian prospect Casper Ruud was topped 7-6 (3) 2-6 6-3 by French youngster Ugo Humbert in probably the match of the day, unfortunately relegated to an outside court.
Earlier sixth seed Hubert Hurkacz (Poland) edged Italian Lorenzo Sonego 7-5 6-3.