Queenstown mother Felicity Oxnevad remembers the day daughter Louise got hooked on tennis.
They were returning from a Dunedin tournament where eight-year-old Louise had joined a friend who’d insisted they play doubles together.
Felicity remembers Louise, who didn’t really play at all then, losing every match easily but asking on the drive home if her Mum could make her a good player.
“I said ‘Of course’ and she said ‘I’m serious, can you really?’ That was it – the next day I picked her up from primary school and she said ‘Have you got tennis racquets, can we go hit?’
“From that moment after school every afternoon we’d hit till it got dark. She wouldn’t let me off the court,” Felicity recalls.
“She wanted to catch up to be as good as the other girls at this Dunedin tournament. I saw the passion there.”
Fast-forward 10 years.
Louise, now 18, has victories over girls ranked in the world’s top 50 under-18 players, and leaves Queenstown next week to start a lucrative five-year tennis scholarship at American college California Polytechnic.
Louise is the third graduate of local coach Lan Bale’s Queenstown Tennis Academy to get such a scholarship, following in the footsteps of brothers Ben and Riki McLachlan, also based in California.
Louise says mixing it with some of the world’s top juniors has been a highlight.
“You see them and realise there’s nothing in it. There’s nothing between you and the rest of the girls. Anything can happen on the day.”
The determined young athlete says her interest in tennis was sparked watching Felicity.
“Mum was always down at the club. I remember sitting in the umpire seat – I was always climbing up there.
“I was very keen and intrigued by the sport. Then I just got into hitting and improving all the time. It became part of my daily routine.”
She’s spent countless hours on court, training daily plus doing extra fitness, yoga and gym work – and studying hard to get the high grades required for college.
Louise admits to an innate competitive streak, with Felicity recalling her dramatic win in a Central Otago cross-country race while a junior at Wakatipu High.
“She was the only kid struggling to breathe at the end and almost vomiting – well actually she was vomiting – and what peeved me off was other mothers looking at me like ‘how could you make your child do that?’” Felicity says.
“But it had nothing to do with me – she used to do that sort of thing all on her own.”
Louise agrees: “I was always very competitive – I didn’t like to lose. I think it comes a bit from Mum.”
A turning point came when aged 12 she won a Canterbury under-14 tournament, beating the fifth, fourth, third and first seeds for a surprise win.
“They were all these girls I looked up to – they’d always been superior and I gave them a pretty good shock.
That was my first big winning streak.”
After Year 11, when playing more overseas to get her world junior ranking up, she left Wakatipu High to study via correspondence as she was spending four months a year travelling.
Louise was told she’d got the US scholarship at the end of last year but had to wait till May to find out she’d been accepted for its prestigious architecture degree.
“I found out in an email from the coach – I was so excited I was dancing.”
Felicity says she heard the yell from downstairs – “It was like a shriek, I didn’t know whether she’d hurt herself or what.”
Queenstown personal trainer Mark Wilson, who has worked regularly with Louise, says she trains like a professional.
“She’s one of the hardest trainers I’ve seen … a very focused and committed young lady.”
Bale says he has a lot of respect for his young charge: “It didn’t all come easy for her and she worked hard. She has a great opportunity now to pursue her two passions – architecture and tennis – in an environment where everything will be provided.”
Queenstown Tennis Club hosts a farewell day for Louise at the Gardens courts on Saturday with tennis from 1pm and a BBQ and drinks to follow.