Buninyong tennis coach Peter Joyce will watch with a keener eye than most when Zoe Hives steps on to court at the Australian Open.
For more than six years he coached Hives through the junior ranks, helping shape her game as she worked toward a professional tennis career.
“She had a dream and she just wanted to secure it and nothing got stuck in her way,” he said.
“She’s made the most of her opportunities.”
Tennis Australia’s decision to award Hives, 22, a wildcard entry in to the singles draw of of the Australian Open came as no surprise to Mr Joyce, who has coached thousands of up-and-coming tennis players.
“She had a pretty good chance from her results early in the year and up north in Queensland. Once she won those tournaments that put her an inch ahead of the pack so she had a pretty good chance of the wildcard,” he said.
As well as the Australian Open wildcard, Hives was also granted a wildcard in to the WTA Hobart International tennis tournament this week.
Hives won her first round match on Tuesday but yesterday lost in the second round 6-2 6-4 to world number 55, Swiss player Belinda Bencic.
The past year was a successful one for Hives, who improved her world ranking 169 places to finish 2018 ranked 215, with her efforts in Hobart further boosting her standing to 211 – the highest ever in her career.
Hives first picked up a tennis racquet at her family home on their cattle farm in Kingston, near Creswick, aged five, and by the seven had played her first indoor competition in Ballarat.
She was about 9½ when she began training with Mr Joyce, building up to training about four nights a week on court during her secondary schooling at Mount Clear College.
“She was very small, really small, she was skin and bone and had a big heart and was a pretty determined young lady, even as a child,” he remembered.
Her first major tennis title came age 14 when she won the Spring National Under 14s title.
“We used to drive from Mount Clear College to Ballarat Regional Tennis Centre and she would just sit in the car and you’d hardly get a boo out of her. She was very quiet, she’s still pretty quiet that’s just her nature. I’d be chatting away to myself,” Mr Joyce said.
Mr Joyce spoke to Hives at Christmas and they regularly chat on social media, but he gave her a call last week when she was granted the Australian Open wildcard.
“I rang her and said I’m pleased for her, that’s the most important thing. We have a little saying ‘make the most of the next little step’.”
Hives will learn tonight who her first round opponent will be in the Australian Open when the official draw takes place from 6pm.
It won’t be the first time Hives has competed at the Australian Open, having stepped on court last year in the doubles after being granted a wildcard with doubles partner Alison Bai in the womens, and Brad Mousley in the mixed.
The Courier, January 10, 2019 | Michelle Smith