Coach hits court at Ballina
MELBOURNE tennis player Ben O'Brien has coached all over the world but now finds himself back in competition after an extended stint overseas.
The unseeded 32-year-old had a convincing 6-1 6-1 over Daniel Stoddart in the first round of the Ballina New Year Open at the Cherry Street courts yesterday.
O'Brien has only played at Ballina on one other occasion but he is no stranger to tennis players in the region.
He is friends with Lismore's Brendan Moore, who won the tournament for a third time last year.
"I stayed with Brendan about seven years ago so I'm back again to catch up with him,” O'Brien said.
"He's up at the Brisbane International and not playing this year but I'll definitely see him before I go.”
O'Brien is one of the older players in the field with a host of teenagers in the open men's draw this year.
This is his second tournament back and he hopes to make the most of the coming weeks before stepping back into a full-time coaching role.
"I've got the chance to get a few tournaments under my belt in this January-February period,” O'Brien said.
"I don't know many of the players here but it looks like it could be a pretty open competition.
"If you can play to the wet and windy conditions you'll go a long way towards winning it.”
O'Brien was unable to replicate the same form in the second round when he was beaten 6-1 6-1 by No 2 seed Louis Clark.
Meanwhile, top seed Oliver Casey had a bye in the first round before accounting for the unseeded Nicholas Burns 6-2 6-4 in the second round.
Tournament regular Stephen Gort also won his first round match 6-0 6-0 against Victorian Ethan Watts.
Gort also beat No 5 seed Caleb Maxted 6-3 6-1 in the third round.
Veteran Chris O'Mara advanced to the third round along with No 2 seed Jack Maddocks, who is back after playing at college level in the United States.
In the open women's division, top seed Megan Smith is through to the quarter-finals after a 6-0 6-0 win over the unseeded Jenna Kaplan.
The competition continues today with the juniors also playing at courts in Alstonville.
The tournament is expected to finish on Friday or Saturday, depending on the weather.
"We've added the extra day to try and counter the rain this year,” tournament director Brendon Rowe said. "Every year I've been here it has rained and we've ended up having to cancel some of the events.
"We'll aim to finish on Friday.”