3 March 2017
This weekend sees the business end of Soffe cup tennis spring into action with semi-finals to determine the 2017 finalists. Top of the minor premiership, Pukekura host newcomers to the competition Pihama and defending champions Huatoki meet Oakura at home.
All season Pukekura's strength has been in their women's line-up and semi-finals are no exception with Louise Waite, Nikayla Barnard, Kirsten Adam and Linda Reid likely to dominate Maree Gopperth, Grace Kelly, Marina Gopperth and Peggy Lawn. The men's line-ups however are far more evenly matched. In the No1 men's spot Pukekura's Caleb Fleming meets Pihama's Jordan Fleming for the first time this season. On paper Pukekura's Caleb Fleming would appear stronger however Pihama's Jordan Fleming has been improving all season and is nearing being back to his best so this is likely to be a hard fought battle. Pukekura have opted to stick with those that have been loyal to them all season with David Barnard, Mike Erb and Andrew Hood meeting Beauden Fleming, Jacob Gopperth and James Padilla which should all be good matches. If Pihama's men rise to the challenge it could be a relatively even score line after singles although one would probably favour Pukekura to have the lead after singles. Both teams are introducing specialist men's doubles players into the mix with Pukekura naming Mat Garnham and Raymond Teunissen and Pihama Rob Haveswood and Patrick Stevenson so the doubles and mixed could be a determining factor in the overall result.
Defending champions Huatoki have their national superstar Ajeet Rai at No1 in the men's line-up which provides them almost an instant guarantee of the three games he plays with Jaime Simpson unlikely to be able to compete in singles. In the other men's games Huatoki's Jayden Harrison, Alistair Nairn and Kristian Revfeim meet Oakura's Graeme Mitchell, Brady Simpson and Len Adamson. It is one each way between Harrison and Mitchell however the other two favour Nairn and Adamson respectively so the men's contest will be fiercely fought. In the women's, Huatoki's Tracey Old, Chris Wilson, Lorraine Heerdegen and Jae Wilson meet Oakura's Sue Oldfield, Jackie Keenan, Ana Spurdle and Chris Davies. It would appear Oakura might have a slight advantage in these matches with Oldfield likely to dominate Old however the other games really could go either way. The only specialist doubles player to be named is Oakura's Becky Bruckner in women's doubles. If when these two sides met only two weeks ago is anything to go by and the teams stick with their top men's doubles combinations the contest of Rai/Harrison versus Simpson/Mitchell will be great tennis to watch.
The winners will have a break next weekend for Taranaki Anniversary weekend and play the final on March 18th.
Christie Cup Challenge
This weekend is shaping up to be a big weekend in Taranaki tennis with Soffe cup semi-finals on Saturday followed by an away representative fixture on Sunday which now doubles as a Christie Cup challenge after Manawatu took the cup off Wanganui last weekend.
The Christie cup has been challenged for every year since 1926/27 with the last time Taranaki held the cup being 2011/12. The recent resurgence in tennis in Taranaki sees them travel to Manawatu this Sunday with a strong line-up and a real chance of competing to bring home the Christie Cup.
The Taranaki men's line-up is at full strength with National champion Ajeet Rai currently home from his travels training in both Taranaki and Auckland so he will lead the line-up. His brother Amrit Rai, now based in Wellington has also made a welcome return. After a few season's off, Jordan Fleming has shown continual improvement this season and his return to the men's team adds further strength along with Jaime Simpson, Graeme Mitchell and Caleb Fleming.
Louise Waite heads up the women's team with the No2 spot filled by Alice Caskey, who has represented Taranaki throughout her junior years in tennis and returns to represent her province. At only 13, Nikayla Barnard will feature at no3 with Sue Oldfield, Chantelle Peters and Ella Rogers rounding out the team.
The fixture is being played at the Manawatu tennis club in Palmerston North from 10am. The senior team will be supported by a development team which is also travelling to meet a Manawatu development team at the same time.