Top New Zealand tennis junior Shona Nakano eyeing switch to Japan for support

The father of one of New Zealand’s brightest young tennis players, Shona Nakano, has launched a fundraising givealitte page for his daughter and is even considering her changing nationality to Japan to get support.

The 17-year-old Nakano won three of the four junior ITF tournaments in New Zealand in January, while she won the New Zealand 18 and under title at the age of 15.

However, she has received hardly any financial or coaching support from Tennis New Zealand over the years and as she doesn’t come from a rich family, her father, Nobby Nakano says they are having to look at taking drastic steps to help Shona achieve her goal of becoming a professional player.

“Shona has to think if she wants to become Japanese for tennis,” Nakano says of his daughter, who was born in Auckland to Japanese parents.

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In 2013 Auckland raised Cameron Norrie switched nationality to Britain due to a lack of support from Tennis NZ, with the then high performance director, Marcel Vos not believing he was good enough to make it as a pro. Norrie is currently ranked No 10 in the world.

Shona is ranked 259 in the world, but the financial strain of playing a sport like tennis means she hasn’t been able to travel overseas for tournaments, so it’s difficult to know just how good she is.

Shona Nakano in action in 2016, at the age of 11.

MARK TAYLOR FAIRFAX NZ / Waikato Times

Shona Nakano in action in 2016, at the age of 11.

Later this month there are two ITF Junior tournaments in Mornington, Victoria. But while many of New Zealand’s top juniors are making the trip across the Tasman for it, the Nakano’s couldn’t afford to send Shona and she has only been able to play seven ITF Junior tournaments since the beginning of 2021.

“If I look at the iTF rankings and see some players doing 30 tournaments a year. How do they do that? ” Questioned Nobby, who works as a gardener.

“I understand that tennis is a rich person’s sport.

“When it comes to travel, we spend a lot. At one stage we were going to Wellington by car to play and Shona has also stayed in backpackers.

“Financially it’s not easy at all. I set up a budget and we’re always juggling it for how we spend the money, for tournaments or coaching?

“But there is a limit of options, like does she go to Australia, or maybe Japan because we have connections there? But probably that’s it. “

In December 2019 Shona beat Jade Otway in the final of the New Zealand 18 and under championships. Yet despite this achievement, Nobby said he didn’t hear from the then high performance director of Tennis NZ, Simon Rea.

“She got treated like she was a lucky winner,” he said.

“After Shona won the nationals in December, in February there was a women’s ITF tournament in Hamilton.

“Simon phoned me and said she could have a qualifying wildcard. Before that, there hadn’t been any communication.

“It was a good opportunity, but Vivian (Yang) got a main draw wildcard and so too did Elyse (Tse).”

While those who run the game like to see tennis as a sport for all, the reality is that nearly all the top young players in New Zealand go to private colleges, with some homeschooled.

Tennis parents are known for being pushy and kicking up a fuss when they don’t get what they want for their son or daughter. But Nobby says because of his Japanese culture of him, that’s not his style of hers.

“Because I’m Japanese there is that hesitancy about it, because we don’t do that sort of thing,” he said.

“When she won the national title, we waited and thought they would think about getting in touch. But nothing.

“The Japanese way is to be reserved, not to be out there promoting your daughter. I don’t know how good she is, I know in New Zealand lei she’s one of the top players but I did think she might get something di lei, because lei she won three out of four ITF tournaments here. “

Tennis NZ high performance director Christophe Lambert didn’t address Shona’s situation specifically, but said they try to help out when they can.

“Whenever I receive an email or call from a coach asking for help, we always try to find a solution,” Lambert said.

“I’m not saying we can give out millions, because we don’t have the money for that, but we always offer assistance.

“The problem is, how do we know what players want to do? I can’t call 20 players and their coaches.

“We have a plan and it’s been communicated to the coaches, that we will assist any player who can play in a Grand Slam, we will offer them a tour.

“For some players and I won’t give names, I don’t know if they’ve changed their mind after saying they won’t go on the semi-professional / professional pathway and school is the most important thing,” Lambert added .

“So by doing school and the tournaments around that, they’re going to have a good ranking in New Zealand and get a scholarship in a College in the US.

“The players who are really interested, we try to help them. The players who are not interested, or have changed their minds, I don’t know. “

* The givealittle page for Shona Nakano can be found here.

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