Brothers’ Grand Slam debut

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Riki and Ben McLachlan have made the cut for their first junior tennis Grand Slam – the Australian Open.

The brothers won’t know until mid-December if they’re in the top division for the competition starting on Janaury 25 but their 18-and-under age-group world rankings guarantee them two of the 64 spots on court.

Riki, 17, and Ben, 16, are ranked 133 and 130 in the world. As the older players graduate from the junior ranks, the McLachlans will find themselves in the top 70 at the start of 2009 – players compete as juniors until the end of the calendar year in which they turn 19.

The Queenstown youngsters head to Melbourne in early January to play the three-week summer circuit leading up to the opening Grand Slam of 2009.

It’s pay-off time for the pair, who spent more than half of this year travelling for overseas junior
tournaments and studying by correspondence while away.

Ben: “I’ve never played in a Grand Slam before so it’ll be a good experience. We’ll get to see the pro players as well, like [Roger] Federer.”

The McLachlans were the first to pound the courts when Queenstown Tennis Club coaches Lan Bale and Mark Milburn began their “elite” programme four years ago.

With the agreement of parents and teachers, Riki and Ben hit the courts from 9am-noon three days a week and on weekends. They now train for up to 17 hours weekly.

Bale, their coach for the past six years, says: “It’s a really satisfying feeling watching these boys turn into young men and become real tennis players. It’s not over yet, though.”

It’s a tough schedule but one they hope will lead them to their next goal – Junior Wimbledon and the French Open juniors.