Taking a Paige out of Venus Williams' book

By James Perry

Paige Hourigan is the current NZ No. 1 ranked tennis player. Today the Tuwharetoa descendant got an opportunity of a lifetime, being Venus Williams training partner in Auckland.

Having being knocked out of qualifying for the ASB Classic by fellow Kiwi Valentina Ivanov yesterday, a silver lining was presented to her by tournament director Karl Budge to train against Williams as the former World No. 1 prepares for the tournament beginning tomorrow.

"Her (Venus) and Serena have been my idols ever since I was growing up playing tennis. They're absolutely amazing so getting the opportunity to hit with her was incredible," the 21-year-old said afterwards.

Amazingly, 38-year-old Williams turned professional in 1994, nearly three years before Hourigan was born.

Paige Hourigan serves against Venus Williams at practice in Auckland - Photo / File

Hourigan says she was giving her best in her serves to Williams, who was able to return them with ease. The Turakina born and raised Hourigan says Williams, who has won seven major titles in her career gave her some words of encouragement.

"She just told me to keep being positive because I have so many areas in my game that are good and she just told me to believe in myself."

Hourigan's response? "I said thank you."

Former World No.1 Venus Williams is back in Auckland for the ASB Classic this week - Photo / File

After spending much of the past four years studying in America, Hourigan has returned home to NZ, however, she hasn't allowed herself to relax too much.

She says much of her time has been on the court, or with family, "That's my life, it's exactly what I want to be doing. I mean if I wanted to be partying and New Year's, then I guess that would be my life."

"You've got to do different things and sacrifice different things to be able to be the best," she adds.

With the recent retirement of Marina Erakovic, Hourigan has assumed the NZ No.1 ranking. Something she wasn't expecting to have at such an early stage of her career, however, "I guess it's cool to have that title." 

She recently completed her Business Studies at Georgia Tech, USA, and now the world no. 576 is hoping to climb even further up the world tennis rankings. She won her first professional title earlier this year in Portugal, which propelled her from above 1100 in the world to her current ranking.

"I'm super happy with the way I was playing back then and I'm hoping I can gain that confidence back and keep on building my ranking."

With the inspirational words of a former world no 1 ringing in her ears, the young Māori girl from Turakina might just realise a few more of her tennis dreams in the years to come.