WHILE he might have spent the past six months honing his craft thousands of kilometres away in the United States, for Blake Gregor, the clay courts of Griffith will always be home.
After packing his bags earlier this year to chase his dream of playing elite tennis, the talented teen has returned to his old stomping ground to try and take out the men’s singles title at this weekend’s MIA Open.
While the draw is full of talent, Gregor’s work with top-flight coaches as part of the University of South Alabama could give him the edge he needs.
And while the modest 19-year-old said he is looking to do Griffith proud on the famous clay of the Jack Shannon Courts, he acknowledges all of his opponents are not going to let him cruise to a title win. Speaking to The Area News before a practice session this week, Gregor said all facets of his life were where they needed to be as he continues to make his name in the South Alabama tennis program.
“I love it so far, the tennis is good, the study is good and the social life is good,” Gregor said.
“I’m playing three hours every day including gym sessions and then on the weekends I’m flying all across the country to play against different opponents from other colleges.
“And playing against different people with different styles means you become a lot tougher, and because I’m only short I’m playing against guys who are six foot five.”
Long being known to chase down almost every ball that comes across the net to him, Gregor said he has had to adapt to players with stunning power from the back of the court.
“I’m used to being small for my age so I’ve learned to toughen up and get out there and play, and the coaches in college try and work on the weaknesses in my game and then try and make my strengths even better,” he said.
Asked of his chances this weekend, Gregor said he was getting his touch back on his home court, and while he failed to make a lofty claim of a win, said he would not hold back in any game.
“We finished our season about May 15 when we lost in the conference final but I started to pick up the racquet last week and I’ve had a hit every day this week leading up to the Open,” Gregor said.
“I’m trying to do Griffith proud this weekend that’s for sure, because I have not been here to get national points that’s why I have not been given a seed.”
Gregor has drawn to play a qualifier in the first round, while top men’s seed Jade Culph will line up against Nicolas Fenaughty from Cobram.
Number two seed and favourite son Danny Dossetor will also line up against a qualifier in the first round with the unseeded Tavis Bergamin playing James Curtis-McDonald first up.
In the open women’s draw, Griffith’s Kate Dreyer faces a tough path through to the final if she is able to beat Dubbo’s Emily Rath in the first round, with the number one seed Hope Curtis McDonald waiting for her.
Maddison Gregor will lock horns with Jenna Shreeve early on while Meagan Polkinghorne will be looking to outplay Regina Virgo.