Talk about the ultimate sporting juggle.
Gifted Southland racquet sports youngster Finn Holden is set to achieve a rare national feat to underline his unique all-round ability.
Finn, 14, will play in the New Zealand Junior Tennis Championships and then the New Zealand Table Tennis junior team training camp and trial in the same week.
Both events are in Christchurch, with the national teams’ tennis championships finishing on Saturday, January 20, which is when the New Zealand table tennis training camp begins.
It’s not unusual to play both sports but it’s believed Finn will become the only boy or girl nationally to have competed in both at the same time at that elite level. It’s never been done because switching between racquet sports – especially on a national and New Zealand team stage – is not easy. That’s why the best athletes in those sports are generally able to focus on only one racquet sport. Finn, though, is an exception.
“Many people don’t understand how different the sports are,’’ said Finn, who has just won two titles in the Wanaka junior tennis open.
“It’s the different techniques needed that’s the hardest part to adjust to.’’
But Finn clearly handles it well. He’s been playing and training for both sports simultaneously since he was eight. He’s in the New Zealand 15 years table tennis squad for the second straight year and last season became the youngest player to win successive Southland senior men’s singles titles. He’s also fashioned an unmatched record in Southland junior tennis, having gone seven straight years before suffering his first local singles loss in his age group last October. But next week would be his toughest challenge moving from the Wilding Park tennis courts to the table tennis stadium on the same day. It usually takes four weeks competition preparation for each sport.
Finn was just grateful for an exemption from Table Tennis New Zealand to miss part of the opening day of the training camp and Oceania championship selection trial. He also appreciated not having pressure placed on him to choose between the sports.
“I really just want to try to keep playing both sports for as long as I can.’’
Finn’s feat will be one highlight of a special time for Southland’s leading tennis and table tennis juniors. He will be joined at the New Zealand Table Tennis training camps in the 12s, 15s and 18s age-groups by fellow Southlanders Maia Cavanagh, Laura Geraghty, Lauryn Fleming and Andrei Casareo. It would be Southland’s biggest single national table tennis representation.
Southland tennis youngsters Tim Willans, Emma White and Halle Faherty will also join Finn in the southern zone 14s team – selected from Timaru south – in the nationals. The team will be coached by long-serving Southland mentor Pete White. Southland’s Riley Smith and Sophie Willans line up in the 12s teams and individual tennis championships, while Claudia Smith and Bianca Popham are part of the southern 16s team in Auckland. Claudia has already enjoyed great success in the 16s national individual championships, finishing runner up in the tier 3 girls singles on Tuesday. Gore’s Kade Wilson also acquitted himself well in the boys’ 16 years division.