Advantage Riki

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Ryan Keen farewells the tennis teen heading to Berkeley on a US college scholarship

Queenstown tennis ace Riki McLachlan leaves today to start living his dream.

The 18-year-old – ranked 56 in world juniors – is off to the University of California, dubbed Berkeley, on a prestigious four-year tennis scholarship.

It covers hefty tuition fees and books – understood to be in excess of $NZ50,000 a year – while all his tennis clothing will be sponsored by Nike.

Everything else is organised – training, physio and travel for matches. He just chips in for accommodation.
An “excited” Riki says college became a dream six years ago when Queenstown coach Lan Bale took him and talented younger brother Ben on a US tour, including a Berkeley stop.

“The facilities were amazing so it was always a goal. That’s when I started playing more than just two or three times a week,” Riki says.

“It opened our eyes, not only to the college scene but also the level [of play].”

Before settling into college, Riki will play the US Open junior grand slam early next month.

He’ll be accompanied by Berkeley head coach Peter Wright, who says he targeted Riki because he plays smart, is a “tremendous team guy and one of the world’s best juniors”.

“We’re counting on [Riki] being a big part of our team.”

For Riki, it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work – like hitting on ice-cold courts in Queenstown Gardens at 7am in midwinter.

“I remember Lan down there with trackpants, five layers of clothes, the ball hardly bouncing and it’s freezing.”
He was part of Bale’s elite Queenstown Tennis Academy, requiring hours out of school to train. He’d catch up on study afterwards.

Wakatipu High deputy principal Grant Adolph says Riki’s peers always respected him despite his different schedule.

“He’s fairly humble and lets his talent do the talking. If he’s not socialising in the way some were, they could understand why.”

Riki says he’s still managed to maintain most school friendships.

“[At first] they probably thought I was a little bit strange or obsessive about tennis but I guess we were just working towards our goals.”

Ben, 17, is targeting next year’s junior grand slams and leaves Queenstown today to play a tournament in Fiji worth valuable ranking points.

The University of Texas is already knocking on Ben’s door.

Father Craig McLachlan says: “Financially, it’s cost a lot [to get to this point] but it hasn’t cost as much as it would to send them to boarding school.

“It becomes all-consuming in the family and everybody is heading towards the same goal. But if you’re into your family, it’s fun and gets your kids on the right track.”