Tennis: Sisters a formidable team
By TERRY MADDAFORD
Richard Palmer breathed a sigh of relief when Eden and Paula Marama breezed into town yesterday.
As tournament director for the ASB Classic, Palmer was starting to wonder when the players he had given wildcards would show up.
But yesterday, just a couple of hours after arriving from a short Christmas break at their Paris base, the sisters were happily relaxing at the ASB Bank Tennis Centre awaiting their first appearance at the home of tennis.
They were taken a little by surprise when told they have been given a wildcard into the main draw of the doubles tournament.
"That's great," said 19-year-old Paula, who will also play in the singles qualifying tournament. "It's our first time here and the first time we have got into a WTA tournament. It's pretty exciting."
It has been a big year for the Wellington-born sisters.
Lucky to get into the International Tennis Federation tournament in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, in mid-June, the sisters surprised themselves as much as their opponents with their first-up triumph.
Paula said it was hard at the start, but the combination has clicked.
They have now won five ITF doubles titles together, and Paula has won another with a different partner. After starting the year with no ranking, they are now ranked 332 (Paula) and 361 (Eden) in doubles.
Both insist, however, that Eden's singles career still takes preference.
Although she has played little junior tennis lately, Eden is still ranked 44 on the ITF junior singles list - down from 23 in April.
The sisters, now coached exclusively by Frenchman Nicolas Copin - they used to be part of his larger squad - have been living in Paris for the past three years.
"I still pinch myself when I look back on what has happened," said Eden, 17, who started her year by reaching the quarter-finals of the junior tournament at the Australian Open. She hopes that 2004 - her last year as a junior - will be just as good.
But, given the chance and if she can pick up some WTA points - starting with the Classic - she is unlikely to play much more junior tennis.
In singles, too, she started the year with no ranking.
She is now up to 491 - with her sights set higher.
Like many in their sport, the sisters are on the international roundabout. They have been to Egypt five times and stop off in Paris irregularly to recharge.
Eden has opted out of a return to Melbourne for the Australian Open, preferring instead to take a short break back in New Zealand.
"I probably only get four or five weeks off over a year," Eden said. "So I make the most of them."
Although Palmer was making no promises, it seems likely the sisters will play their first-round doubles in Tuesday night's session.
That could depend on who Eden gets to play in her first-round singles - a match likely to be on centre court. Something she would really relish.
* Eden Marama
Born: February 2, 1986, Wellington.
Results: With older sister Paula won five ITF doubles titles in 2003. Also won two singles titles.
Here: Wildcard into main draw, ASB Classic singles. Sisters have wildcard into main draw doubles.