Toleafoa working to rejuvenate her sport in Otago

Former professional and Otago tennis player Claudine Toleafoa has joined the board of Tennis Otago. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Former professional and Otago tennis player Claudine Toleafoa has joined the board of Tennis Otago. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Former professional and Otago tennis player Claudine Toleafoa laughs when asked if anything has changed down at the Logan Park Tennis Centre since she last called Dunedin home.

It is ironic rather than genuine amusement, though.

She is back living in city for the first time in more than 30 years and, judging by the state the courts, that was probably about the last time the facility had a good spruce up.

Tennis, like a lot of sporting codes, is struggling to stay relevant. Toleafoa, who at her peak was the No121 ranked female singles player in the world, does not plan to sit sideline and watch it continue to erode.

The 49-year-old has joined the board of Tennis Otago and is working on developing a strategic plan to help rejuvenate the game.

''I think the health of the sport has declined a little bit,'' she said.

''I've noticed that schools don't have tennis courts any more. Tennis is something that does not seemed to be played a lot in the primary schools.

''But there is an opportunity there to reach that young age group and pull them into the sport.

''It is about exposure and kids getting the opportunity to play the sport. If we can introduce kids to the sport and start building up the grassroots, then I think we can make change quickly in a small place like Dunedin.

''There is a lot of passionate people in the tennis community doing voluntary work and spending a lot of time trying to develop the game and keep the clubs alive.''

Toleafoa still plays some social tennis with ''a lovely group of ladies from Andy Bay''. But it is a long way from her days on the professional circuit.

She reached the second round of the Australian Open in 1991 and the first round of Wimbledon as a lucky loser later that year.

She also had a solid doubles career, achieving a highest ranking of world No128.

In 1992 she played Steffi Graf in a Fed Cup tie.

Toleafoa retired from professional tennis in 1996. She has worked as a lawyer in Auckland and has also had a stint living in Sydney.

Her son Alexander Limberger lives on the Gold Coast in Australia and Toleafoa recently relocated to Dunedin to be closer to her mother and extended family.

She is taking a break from the law and embracing other challenges. She is working at Riding for the Disabled Association and volunteering at Trade Aid, as well as her role on the board of Tennis Otago.

''We are in a transition staff-wise [at Tennis Otago] so I'm helping out with some admin work. We would like to develop a strategic plan and be able to take that to the tennis community for feedback.

''That is where I really like to put my energy.''

Toleafoa, who was on the Tennis New Zealand board from 2005-09, is one of four new female board members. She is joined by events manager Charlotte Meiklejohn, sport development and management specialist Lourdes Turconi and Georgie Christie, who has been co-opted on to the board as treasurer. She is an accountant at the Otago Polytechnic.

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