When Kingston tennis star Zoe Hives strides on the court for her first-round singles match at the Australian Open next week, it will be with the backing of the strongest support team – her family.
Tennis has been a family passion for decades, with her parents Neil and Jan building a granite tennis court on their cattle property so they could play together.
It was on the family court that a tiny Zoe Hives and her brothers first picked up a racquet, and where she still occasionally has a hit when home on the family farm.
And in her early years of playing, mum Jan would hit endless balls for her to return.
It’s a far cry from the concrete jungle and crowded courts of Melbourne Park, but she’ll still have family support from the sidelines in her first grand slam competition.
Throughout Hives’ tennis career it’s been a family affair first on the court at home, then travelling to Ballarat for training and competitions before playing in events further afield within Victoria, interstate and eventually overseas.
Jan is a constant presence in the 22-year-old’s tennis and travelling life, particularly since her return from injury last year.
“When she came back in October, her father and I thought it was best I travel with her. We are just trying to find a happy balance and keep her concentrated on tennis rather than where to get food, how to get from A to B and where to stay,” Mrs Hives said.
“It’s a little bit lonely in the tennis world. It’s wise to have someone to travel with, to chat to after a match and have a meal with.”
Mum is chief cook, transport organiser and accommodation booker during many tournaments, but with Zoe breaking in to the ranks of the WTA and grand slam competitions where meals, transport and accommodation are provided she can take a step back from the logistics and enjoy the tennis.
“I play tennis, I love the sport and it’s exciting and enjoyable supporting Zoe but it’s still tiring,” she said.
Zoe prefers a fairly plain diet so her mum cooks most of the meals, booking apartments with kitchens where she can whip up simple meals like lamb, chicken, steamed vegetables and bolognese.
After the Australian Open she’ll head back to ITF level tournaments including two $60,000 events in Tasmania where mum will again be in charge of logistics.
Mrs Hives said 2019 was likely to be a mixed year of ITF and WTA events for Zoe to boost her ranking, hopefully in to the top 100 by year’s end.
“If you go in to the WTA exclusively and get some tough draws and don’t get the wins your ranking can plummet, so you go back to the ITF to play and flit between both.
“We’d love to think she can get in to the top 100 then just play the WTA legs and in to the grand slams … and hope next year a wildcard is not required.”
The Australian Open wildcard in to the singles draw, which Tennis Australia awarded Zoe last week, was affirmation of a bright future.
“There were three spots and she was definitely in the top four, but it was exciting and just lovely to see her big grin, but she’s up to it,” Mrs Hives said.
“Zoe is a very, very good tennis player, she comes from the country and is very quiet, so it was just lovely for her to know Tennis Australia believes in her enough to give her the wildcard.”
And she also hopes it will spur more youngsters from Ballarat and country areas to pick up a tennis racquet and give the game a go.
“The numbers have probably dropped off a little bit even since she was a junior. It would be lovely to think that Zoe doing well will stimulate some more kids to play.
“Zoe is quite passionate about that. She loves to see kids getting out. She’s always been very active and if not playing tennis was running here and there – she’s never been a kid who wants to sit for hours.”
The Courier, January 10, 2019 | Michelle Smith