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The first round of the Southern Open team event takes place this weekend as division one teams Southern Lakes, Otago, North Otago and Southland face off in Timaru.
The ties are the first round of a two-leg series which will be completed in Dunedin in February.
Defending champion Southern Lakes will go in as the favourite having enlisted a strong side led by New Zealand Davis Cup player and recent touring professional Finn Tearney, Davis Cup captain Alistair Hunt and former Australasian tour player Perry Crockett.
On the women’s side, Lakes may be more vulnerable but will back its experienced players to sweep the doubles and pick up points in the singles.
Otago looks to be the strongest challenger as it attempts to back up its second-round defeat of Southern Lakes last February.
Otago’s women’s roster is spearheaded by Kaitlyn Wilkinson and Otago Open champion Ayesha Horley, while on the men’s side it will be relying on a talented line-up of Paddy Ou, Mitchell Sizemore, Ryan Eggers, Carlos Reid and new cap Jack Warner.
Southland will be led by Te Anau coach Sky Lovill who, in his junior career in the United States was a top performer.
The team is strengthened by the addition of George McAleer, and its top female player, Halle Faherty, will be looking for new scalps.
North Otago will provide tough opposition with Rebecca Dellaway and Belinda Hirst in its ranks.
In the second division, Southland B takes on Northern Southland in Te Anau, while Otago B, North Otago B and South Canterbury will compete in Oamaru.
- Fraser Richardson