Ace academy for resort

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A privately-funded tennis academy, aimed at turning out pros like Aussie Open doubles semi-finalist Ben McLachlan, is under way for Queenstown.

Run by long-time local coach and ex-pro Lan Bale, Winton Tennis Academy is a philanthropic venture by Lakes District developers Chris and Michaela Meehan’s Winton Ltd.

The company is about to apply for resource consent for a one-hectare tennis complex at the base of the Bridesdale Farm subdivision, beside Lake Hayes Estate.

developed by the Meehans, is Queenstown’s first government-approved special hou-sing area.

The centre will include two covered courts and six outdoor courts.

Bale’s hoping they will be in place by the end of this year, allowing the academy to take up to 16 high school-age students in 2019.

Academy: A plan of the courts

Meantime, Bale will get the ball rolling with four to eight students this year, utilising existing local courts.

Initially the academy will take Queenstown students before extending its reach to the rest of New Zealand and the Pacific.

Students will attend Wakatipu High as well as the academy.

Tennis coaching will be free, along with financial assistance for uniforms, equipment, travel to tournaments locally and abroad, and extra academic tuition, if necessary.

The only cost will be accommodation – possibly home-stays – for out-of-town students.

The academy’s charter says it aims to provide young NZers “with the sporting, academic and life skills to enable them to gain a scholarship to a world-class university”.

Those scholarships are likely to be to United States universities, following the path trod by Queenstown-bred McLachlan and his brother Riki, who attended the University of California at Berkeley, and other local tennis players Louise Oxnevad, Harry James, James Smith and Miki Nobuzawa.

Bale, who coached at Berkeley before moving to the resort in 2002, says he’s been trying to set up a local tennis academy for many years.

In 2004, for example, he was tied up with plans for a $4 million complex at Remarkables Station, which didn’t proceed.

For the past five years, Bale’s been a performance coach with Tennis NZ, which he’s resigned from to run the academy as its full-time coach.

Well-connected in the tennis world, he’s confident of securing stars like Australian Pat Rafter, South African Wayne Ferreira, Zimbabwean Cara Black and last year’s ATP World Tour Awards’ coach of the year, South African Neville Godwin, to help out, along with local inspirations Ben and Riki McLachlan.

“These players, ex-players and coaches plus many others are extremely supportive of the Winton Tennis Academy and are happy to help in whatever way they can.”

Bale says there’ll also be a degree of off-court training like gym work.

“The end goal is to get these kids a really good education – it’s not strictly about pro tennis, it’s about better opportunities for their lives.

“I think it will bring enormous benefit to the local community.”

Queenstowner Tony Oxnevad, whose daughter Louise completed a five-year scholarship at California Polytechnic State University last July, says it’s excellent that the Meehans are developing a tennis centre and also supporting Bale.

“It’s just fantastic for local kids.

“The great thing is that there’ll be two covered courts, and that makes it a lot easier of course for days when the weather’s bad.”

He also notes that Bale’s well-regarded throughout NZ.

“He’s attracted a lot of top tennis players from around the country for training sessions at various times, and I’m sure that will continue.”

scoop@scene.co.nz