Tennis: Otago defending slim lead

Sian English
Sian English
A tense finish to the Southern Tennis League Division 1 final is expected in Dunedin this weekend.

After the first round in Queenstown in November, Otago holds a slender two-set advantage over Southern Lakes, following their countback win by 15 sets to 13, when rubbers were tied at six-all.

Lakes has been strengthened by the addition of world-ranked veteran Felicity Oxnevad, at the top of the order. Otago won the women's section 5-1 in the first round.

Otago has the same women's squad as last time, an all-junior line-up of Sian English, Georgia Hume, Hanna English and Jessie Stevenson. They will have their work cut out with Suma Ito-Sheehan and Hannah Speight, a member of the national title winning 16s team, dropping down a place. Lakes has yet to name its fourth player. Otago has three players from the nationals winners in Sian English, Hume and Stevenson.

The Lakes men named are Perry Crockett, Mark Milburn - both former Otago titleholders - junior James Smith and the experienced Chris Bradley. Crockett had a professional playing career before turning to coaching, and Milburn had a top-10 national ranking at his peak. Bradley was a leading national junior in the past, and Smith has been playing ITF junior events this season.

The veterans have the advantage of having to play only one tie this weekend, and can avoid the need to recover as was needed in the round robin format of previous years.

Otago has lost loan player Janos Manyai, the formerly highly ranked Hungarian, who has opted to play for his adopted home province of North Otago in Division 2. This is balanced to some extent by the addition of fresher Hamish Low from Nelson, the brother of No 1 Alex. He was a late addition after the withdrawal of Auckland student Aaron Hicks.

Alex Low was the only men's winner in the first round but will find it harder in the top spot. The other Otago members are schoolboys Jong Kyu Kim and Paddy Ou, both of whom have stepped up this season, and relegated Southland Open winner Ryan Eggers, and former Otago player of the year Campbell Higgins, to the second division.

Division 2 has six teams playing in two sections of three, with playoffs to follow. Otago B meets Southland A and North Otago B in section play, while North Otago A, which has strong depth in the men, Southern Lakes B and South Canterbury A comprise the other section.

Playoffs in Division 2 will take place tomorrow afternoon, at Logan Park, while section play starts today at 9am. The Division 1 final, also at Logan Park, begins tomorrow, at 10am.