United Burwood Park makes strong return to Christchurch men’s premier tennis grade

Andrew Falck is delighted with his young squad’s return to Tennis Canterbury men’s premier grade....
Andrew Falck is delighted with his young squad’s return to Tennis Canterbury men’s premier grade. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Christchurch’s age-old elitist social status inquiry "what school did you go to?" has missed the mark entirely with students driving Burwood Park’s return to the premier men’s tennis competition.

Talented teenagers from private and state-funded institutions have united to bridge the code’s class divide between the city’s well-heeled clubs and an unfashionable outfit on the fringe of the red zone.

After a three-season break, Burwood Park returned to Tennis Canterbury’s top echelon on October 16.

They made the ideal comeback against Bishopdale Te Kura Hagley Park; they then drubbed last season’s runners-up Country Mid Canterbury on Saturday, the 6-0 scoreline allowing them to top the table ahead of traditional powerhouse Elmwood.

"The boys are happy, they’re proud of themselves but we’ve still got the big boys to play . . . Elmwood, Burnside and Cashmere,” said Burwood Park coach and manager Andrew Falck.

They had the bye at the weekend and the competition takes a break until November 20 when Cashmere looms.

Falck has mentored most of the team since they started out, so this campaign is already an unqualified success.

“I coached Duncan [McCall] from the age of eight, I’ve started most of those players. It’s good to see them come through,” he said.

The squad includes Duncan McCall. Photo: Karen Casey
The squad includes Duncan McCall. Photo: Karen Casey
Ryan van Grinsven is the figurative pensioner in his mid-20s; Jordan Edwards is the other elder statesman at 18, followed by McCall, 16, a New Zealand age-group representative.

Queenstown-based Kai Milburn, a national title winner, is the junior at 14. Ethan Cooke and EJ Gonzaga are 15.

Milburn makes the trek by bus or plane to play, arriving on Friday and heading south on the Sunday.

“He commutes because there’s not a lot [of tennis] for them down there,” Falck said.

“I’ll go out on a limb and say he’s the best under-14 player in New Zealand. He can handle the pressure.”

South African ex-pat Falck has lived in the city for 13 years, sufficient time to realise old school ties are a conversation point – though not in this case.

“It’s strange how they’re all at different schools and then compete together. They’re a tight bunch. They train together and do a lot together.”

Ethan Cooke in action. Photo: Karen Casey
Ethan Cooke in action. Photo: Karen Casey
McCall and Nont Prachuabmoh (17) are at St Andrew’s College and Christ’s College respectively, while Cooke (Linwood College) and Gonzaga (Burnside High School) also mix schoolwork and play.

In spite of the squad’s youth, Falck said premier grade was the logical progression after a season in second-tier division one.

“They were a bit young so we gave them another year of exposure to adult tennis so they know what to expect,” he said.

Edwards and Prachuabmoh already had some premier grade experience after playing for Shirley, who have dropped to division one. McCall has filled in for Cashmere.

“Other than that they’ve come through the ranks, div 2, div 1, and slowly worked their way up,” Falck said.

Burwood Park, the club, is also on the ascent after testing times post-earthquake.

The Burwood Tennis Club. Photo: Geoff Sloan
The Burwood Tennis Club. Photo: Geoff Sloan
The top men’s team, then based around Falck’s son Reece – a top junior now at college in the US – foundered after the 2017-18 season.

“Eventually we didn’t have the numbers to keep it going, but now we’re back in the fold,” Falck said.

The club never lost its standing despite the earthquakes fracturing its catchment area.

“We lost about 15,000 homes in the area so that impacted on our ability to grow, but we have maintained our numbers throughout,” he said.

“Facility-wise there was some damage, we had our courts redone and in December they’re going to repaint the (four) hard courts again. There’s three brand new astro (turf) courts.

“We’ve done relatively well considering what was lost.”



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