Jean Walker, right, and Antonia Lawson before their tennis game at Teapot Valley last week. Photo: Simon Bloomberg.

71 years between tennis champions

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1918

There may have been 71 years between tennis players, Jean Walker of Nelson and Kapiti’s Antonia Lawson, but there was nothing between on the scoreboard them when they took to the court for a friendly game at Teapot Valley Christian Camp last week.

Antonia was staying at the camp on a school trip with Raumati Primary last week. When Teapot Valley manager, Christine Glass, found out Antonia was a nationally ranked junior, she contacted her friend Jean, 83, to arrange a game of tennis.
Jean and Antonia’s father, Lane, teamed up against Antonia and one of her schoolmates, Samuel Kingi, for a thrilling three-setter and Lane says he was astounded at Jean’s speed and skill. Antonia and Samuel won the match in a tiebreak, 6-2, 5-7, 11-9.

“She can really hit the ball,” Lane says. “I thought she might be a little slow but she is really, really good.”

However, Lane and Antonia shouldn’t have been surprised because Jean is one of the country’s top masters players, winning gold in the M70+ doubles with Trish Wehner, and mixed doubles with Max Bellis, at the South Island Masters Games in Nelson in 2011.

She also won silver in the doubles with Fay Rangi at the nationals in Nelson earlier this year.

“When I started we all wore white skirts and frilly white panties, and had wooden racquets with gut strings. Now the player’s skirts have got shorter and shorter and some of the girls grunt when they hit the ball – I’m not too sure about that.”

Jean says she has also had to change with the times to make up for her age. These days she plays “crafty” shots and makes sure she hits the ball in the right place, so she doesn’t have to do so much running.

Antonia, who is ranked No2 in her age group nationally, says she had been practising everyday on her school trip to Teapot Valley and really enjoyed her game against Jean. Next weekend, she takes the court for the national junior masters.