Meet New Zealand’s newest tennis star Paige Hourigan

This year is make or break for the determined hotshot.

The idea of playing tennis surrounded by hundreds of people watching your every move may be daunting for some, but for rising tennis star Paige Hourigan, it’s all just part of her job.

At just 22, taking centre court for the final of the ASB Classic women’s doubles last month in her professional debut was a dream come true for the small-town girl.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2019,” enthuses Paige, who grew up near Whanganui. “I’m now feeling confident in myself and being able to play in front of New Zealand was just amazing.”

As Paige lobs a few balls for her photoshoot with Woman’s Day, you can tell she’s the real deal. Her powerful swing and attention to form is part of the reason the Kiwi sportswoman aced her entry to the professional circuit.

Paige also credits her history with her American doubles partner, Taylor Townsend, 22, for helping her. The pair met during Paige’s time studying at a US college.

“Having that relationship with someone on a bit of a deeper level helped me be more comfortable playing at home in front of so many people, because it kind of gets a little bit overwhelming,” explains Paige.

“Having her by my side really made me feel like I could just play.”

However, despite the incredible experience of making the finals on home soil, she was still disappointed not to have won.

“It’s all about momentum,” she tells.

“As soon as you lose it, it’s quite hard to get it back and we lost that second set kind of fast. We really tried our hardest to come back and fight – we were so close – but I’m disappointed because we think we really should have won that.”

With doubles partner Taylor at the ASB Classic. Photo: Getty Images

Although it wasn’t the outcome she was hoping for, the future is bright for our top tennis star, who hails from the most unexpected back-country club.

Brought up in rural town Turakina, Paige says the local tennis courts provided a welcome getaway for the farming community. She often found herself joining her parents for a hit and at age six, she had well and truly caught the tennis bug.

“My favourite thing about tennis is the competitiveness,” she admits. “I love being in an environment where it can go either way.”

By the time Paige was 12, she had dropped all other sports and decided to focus solely on her passion, but living in such a small town meant major sacrifices for both her and her parents.

For three years, Paige and her mum Tracy would make the arduous four-hour round trip to Wellington several times a week to practise with a top tennis coach.

While some kids may have tired from the exhausting commitment, Paige believes it only made her more determined to succeed.

“That really made me want it more because when you travel so much to get to training, then you get there and you train badly, you’re like, ‘What was this for? What a waste of time,'” recalls Paige. “So every single time I got to training, I tried to have a good attitude so I could really improve.”

Her dedication saw her receive a tennis scholarship to Auckland private school St Kentigern College, followed by the Georgia Institute of Technology in the States, where she became the number- one singles player while studying business marketing.

Now currently the 522nd best female player in the world, the girl from Turakina has her eyes on being in the top 200 by the end of 2019. And it’s crucial: The year ahead is make or break as her parents, Tracy and Phillip Hourigan, have given her just two years to make it as a professional tennis player.

“They can’t continually pay for me,” says Paige. “They have been spending money on me since I was young and it’s just not how it is supposed to be. I have to make my own money.”

Nearly 16 years on from when the young schoolgirl picked up a racquet and fell in love with the sport, Paige no doubt has the best way to repay her parents.

“I want to be world number one,” she enthuses. “Every tennis player does it because they want to be the best.”

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