The 80th New Zealand Championships are being held in Wanganui from 10-17 January, sponsored by the New Zealand Guardian Trust Ltd. The Wanganui club itself has 10 lawns (although, sadly, only 40 members) which are fast and subtly wavy. There are a further four lawns at the nearby Gonville club. The event will be managed by NZCC President, Geoff Young.
There are three events being played for; the Open Championship, the Heenan Plate (for players not qualifying for the last 16 in the Open), and the Championship Doubles.
Only four of the entrants have won the New Zealand Open title previously. Bob Jackson (Auckland) shares the record with the legendary Arthur Ross with 11 wins stretching back to 1975. Jackson has a phenomenal record in the event, having reached the final on no less than 20 occasions in the past 23 years. Jackson is the current title holder; he defeated Wellington's Paul Skinley in last year's final.
John Prince (Christchurch) has also performed well over the years, with seven wins since his first in 1967. Aaron Westerby (Waikato) won his first and so far only Open Championship in 1994. Steve Jones (Wellington) took the honours in 1996.
In the Open, there is a very large entry of 44 players divided into 8 seeded blocks. The top 2 from each block qualify for a seeded XYZ draw, best of 3 with no time limit.
Despite some notable absentees - Skinley (broken wrist), Ian Dumergue and Andrew Johnson (overseas), and Graham Beale (family duties) - the field is a strong one. With 19 New Zealand representative players competing, the favourite is likely to be current World No.3, 24-year-old Aaron Westerby, who has returned to New Zealand from England to attempt to regain the title he won in 1994, also in Wanganui.
There are four entries from overseas, including 17-year-old Trevor Bassett from Victoria, who comes on an Australian Junior Scholarship. (This is a reciprocal arrangement with New Zealand who have selected Cameron Lyes to play in the Victoria Open.)
In the doubles, there are 22 entries divided into 3 blocks, all matches consisting of single games with no time limit. Block winners play each other in the final. There are a number of very strong partnerships competing for the title left vacant by Skinley and Jones - including Jackson and Westerby, Toby Garrison and Jones, Richard Baker and Shane Davis, and Jane McIntyre and Prince. All these are brand new combinations.
[Watch this space for further CROQUET WORLD reports on the 1998 New Zealand Championships.]
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