NZ Premier League Gives Kiwi Players A Chance To Thrive During Pandemic

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

NZ Premier League, the Southern Hemisphere’s first pro tennis competition since the novel coronavirus pandemic halted the ATP, WTA and ITF tours, began in Auckland, New Zealand, on June 3. It is a team-based concept (eight teams of three players each) that has brought together many of New Zealand’s best players, including doubles World No. 11 Michael Venus and various members of the Kiwi Davis Cup squad, for three weeks of round-robin play and league finals.

According to Tennis New Zealand, all 112 NZ Premier League matches are being played in Auckland without spectators and broadcast on Sky Sports or the Sky Sports Next YouTube channel.

Following a two-month lockdown, restrictions recently began to ease in New Zealand as the country brought the number of Covid-19 patients being treated down to zero as of this week. With various sporting activities having been given the green light to resume, including tennis, the NZ Premier League is an opportunity for the two dozen players involved to have a competitive environment at home in New Zealand, in which to train and thrive as they await the resumption of tour events throughout the world.

“New Zealand has done very well to contain and eliminate the virus from the country,” said Christophe Lambert, director of High Performance for Tennis New Zealand. “When we managed to get out of isolation, Tennis NZ and the Lavie Academy joined effort to create an event as all the Kiwi players were back in New Zealand in their family during the lockdown.

“We have Mike Venus, Ben McLachlan and Artem Sitak, all Team NZ (Davis Cup) and the players who are in U.S. colleges.

“The NZ Premier League offers opportunities for our best players to have a home base competitive environment so they are ready to jump back in when the pro circuit starts again, but also for our younger players to get the experience needed to perform at the highest level.”

Each of the eight teams have taken their names from different famous New Zealand mountains like Aoraki, Hikurangi, Horokoa and Rangitoto. Play resumes Wednesday and will finish with the league finals on June 18.

“We have seen many small events happening all around the world, but it is the largest in the world and the first one in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Lambert.

McLachlan, ranked No. 58 in doubles, represents Japan but grew up in Queenstown. With no New Zealand players in the Top 500 in singles, the teams are fortified with good doubles players. McLachlan said in a statement, “Its a great chance for the best players in New Zealand to play matches again. I’ve always enjoyed the teams format.”

“The talent pool here in New Zealand right now is as deep as we are ever likely to see, so this is the perfect time to launch what will be a great series,” said Sebastian Lavie, director and head coach of the Lavie Tennis Academy, in a statement. “We’re looking to be really innovative and make things as fun as we can for players and those watching at home, and with so many great professional players here in New Zealand now, the action on court is going to be outstanding.”

Rosters and league schedule: