Tennis Samoa first equal with N.Z. at Oceania Champs

The 5th Oceania Tennis Championships 2018 sponsored by Invest Samoa came to a close on Saturday 8th September 2018 after 6 days of competition. 

Teams from Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Guam, Federated States of Micronesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tahiti-nui and Vanuatu converged in Apia vying to win this biennial tournament’s most sought after team event title.

Team Samoa won 2 Gold Medals and 1 Silver to tie with New Zealand on the top of the medal board who also won 2 Golds and 1 Silver at the end of the tournament. Australia came third with 1 Gold, 1 Silver and 2 Bronze, Fiji 4th with 2 Silver and 1 Bronze and Tahiti 5th with 1 Silver and 1 Bronze.

The first two days of competition was allocated to the all important Teams Event in both the Ladies and Men’s competition. Each team had a maximum of three players playing two singles and one doubles. Each team had to win at least two out of three matches to move on to the next round.

The Samoa ladies team made up of Eleanor Schuster, Vicky Leavai and Penina Kamu made it to the Finals after a hard fought match against Australia that went the distance in the deciding doubles match. Vicky played the first round but went down to Ella Merritt from Australia despite winning the first set 1 – 4, 4 – 2, 4 - 2. Eleanor played Australia’s No. 1 Janaya Smith and won comfortably 0 - 4 1 – 4 setting up a deciding doubles. Eleanor combined with Vicky for the doubles decider winning 4 – 1, 1 – 4, 2 – 4 and a place in the finals against Fiji.

In the finals, both singles were played simultaneously. Vicky took on Ruby Coffin on Court No. 5 winning 3 – 4 3 – 4. In Court No. 6, Eleanor took on Fiji’s No. 1 Saoirse Breen winning 1 – 4 0 – 4 avoiding a doubles decider and taking out the Ladies Team Event Gold Medal. This is only the second time out of 5 Oceania Tournaments that the Samoa Ladies team won Gold the first being Maylani Ah Hoy, Steffi Carruthers and Anastasia Tapusoa in Noumea 2012.

The Samoa Ladies Team 2 made up of Anasis Saipele, Crystal Christman and Maanaima Tausii were in Group B with Fiji and Samoa Ladies Team 1. Team 2 lost both their pool games and played a Tahiti combined team with Samoa’s Luisa Tausii for 5th and 6th place. Team 2 in the deciding doubles came out on top winning 2 – 1. The Samoan Men’s team made up of Marvin Soonalole, Leon Soonalole and Kristen Pavitt faced tough competition pooled in Group A with No. 1 seed Guam, Tahiti (4), Australia and Fiji Team 2. After a great start beating Australia 2 games to 1 in their opening match, Samoa fell to a strong Tahiti team in the quarter finals 3 – 0 and forced them out of the medal rounds early in the Teams Event.

Day 3 Wednesday 5th September 2018 was the start of the Singles and Doubles competition. Penina, Vicky, Luisa, Crystal, Anasis and Eleanor made it to Round 2 having had byes in Round 1. Unfortunately, only Penina Kamu and Eleanor Schuster made it to the Quarter Finals with Penina upsetting Naia Guitton from Tahiti 6 – 4 7 – 5 and Eleanor defeating her compatriot Anasis 6 – 0 6 – 2. Penina however fell to No. 1 Tamara Anderson from New Zealand 6 – 1 6 – 1 whilst Eleanor lived to fight another day with a win over Ruby Coffin 6 – 1 6 – 0 to book a spot in the semi-finals. Day 5 was semi- finals and Eleanor went up against No. 2 seed Saiorse Breen from Fiji. Eleanor defeated Saiorse 6 – 2 6 – 2 and a place in the Singles finals against No. 1 seed Tamara Anderson. Eleanor took out the first set 4 – 6 but Tamara rallied in the second set winning 6 – 3 setting up a tense third set and final set. The 3rd set went for 45 minutes with Eleanor succumbing to Tamara’s defensive play 6 – 4 and having to settle for a Silver medal.

In the Men’s Singles, all three made it to Round 2 but at cost with Leon physically spent after a long and excruciating match against Daniel Llarenas from Guam 2 – 6 6 – 4 7 – 6(6). The physical toll saw Leon lose to Reynald from Tahiti in the Round 2 7 – 5 7 – 5 but the scoreline speaks of Leon’s fighting spirit notwithstanding his pain. Kristen lost to Chris from Guam 6 – 0 6 – 2 in Round 2. This meant that only Marvin made it to the Quarter Finals but he was going up against the No. 3 seed Heve Kelly from Tahiti. Despite losing to Heve 6 – 2 6 – 4, Marvin displayed a determination and fighting spirit that made him popular in the Nations Cup in Lautoka, Fiji in the month of June this year.

In the Ladies Doubles competition, Eleanor and Vicky combined as favourites going into the event. Anasis teamed with Penina and Kim Carruthers teamed up with Luisa Tausii to make up three doubles teams for Samoa. Anasis and Penina lost in the Quarter Finals whilst Kim and Luisa lost to Fiji in the Semi Finals 6 – 1 6 – 1. However, Eleanor and Vicky defeated a combined Tahiti/Fiji team 6 – 2 6 – 2 in the Quarter Finals and played the Cook Island ladies in the semi-Finals. After dispatching of the Cook Island team 6 – 2  6 – 2, Samoa faced Fiji in the Finals. It was a tense final with both teams winning a set each 6 – 3  1 – 6, the Super Tiebreak decider saw the lead see sawing back and forth until Samoa finally put it away with a 16 – 14 win and another Gold for Eleanor and Vicky.

The Men’s Doubles of Leon and Marvin narrowly lost in the Quarter Finals to Tahiti going down 7 – 5 3 – 6 10 – 6 in a Super tiebreak. Kristen teamed up with Anzac Leidig of Australia but lost to the eventual winners New Zealand in the Quarter Finals 6 – 1  6 – 0.

The final event of the competition was a last minute additional Mixed Doubles competition to provide extra games for the players. The players were allowed to choose any partner notwithstanding nationality. Despite the mixed doubles being tokened as a social event, the competition was nevertheless fierce and intense once the players took to the court. In the finals, Marvin and Eleanor narrowly defeated Australia to set up a finals match against Vicky Leavai and Daniel Llarenas from Guam. In the end, Vicky and Daniel had the honours of outlasting and taking out the final Gold on offer and Silver went to Marvin and Eleanor.

Tennis Samoa Co-Coach and Vice-President June Langton said that the competition was at a high level given the quality of the players from New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Fiji, Guam and the Cook Islands. Co-Coach Maylani Ah Hoy commented that the fact that Samoa won Gold in the Ladies Team Event and Ladies Doubles as well as Silver in the Ladies Singles justified Tennis Samoa’s sacrifice to host the event as well as the effort and dedication the players and coaches put in their training program. Co-Coach Tagifano Soonalole could not hold back her pride in witnessing the success of Team Samoa at this Oceania Championships. “We could not have asked for a better result than this. This puts us well on track in preparation for the Pacific Games in 2019”.

The tournament however for Team Samoa was over-shadowed with the sudden passing of Afioga Puao Ah Hoy, former President of Tennis Samoa from 1989 – 1991 and father of Maylani Ah Hoy. Tennis Samoa wishes to dedicate the medal successes of this Tournament to Maylani Ah Hoy and to the memory of Afioga Puao Ah Hoy. Tennis Samoa also acknowledges the sponsors that made this tournament possible: Naming and Major Sponsor Invest Samoa (SIFA), Associate Sponsors MESC and the Ministry of Health “Health Awareness Program”.

Tennis Samoa also acknowledges its Corporate Sponsors: Bluebird Lumber, Ah Liki Construction, BSP, Apia Lua, Island Rock, South Pacific Waters, Tanoa Hotel, AA Rentals, Observer Samoa Newspaper, Samoa Shipping Corporation, Signz Studio, Bluebird Construction, Lober Industries, Samoa Breweries, Samoana Boutique and Lees Hirage.

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