Punjas Nations Cup: ‘Father of Pacific tennis’ returns

Former International Tennis Federation development officer for the Pacific Oceania region Dan O’Connell (left) with former Tennis Fiji president Naga Reddy at the Punjas Nations Cup Pacific at Lautoka Tennis Court. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

Dan O’Connell, regarded as the ‘Father of tennis in the Pacific’ is back in the country as one of the official guests for the Punjas Nations Cup Pacific. O’Connell was employed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) as its development officer for the Pacific Oceania region for more than two decades.

He was based in Fiji and travelled extensively throughout the Pacific.

O’Connell was instrumental in designing the star competition where children who wanted to play learnt to hit the ball.

This encouraged a greater number of the youngsters to move on to full court tennis through a tennis transition program.

O’Connell said it was great to be back home after six years.

“It is like home sweet home. I’m a Fiji citizen. My wife (Isabel) and two sons (Tony, William) are also citizens of this country,” O’Connell said.

“It is the best place in the world. Naga Reddy, Sanjeev Tikaram and I did a lot of work here. What we did, I don’t think anybody else will ever be able to match that.

“I have a photo with Sanjeev sitting with 16 players from seven different nations, who all got full scholarships to the United States of America.

“Sanjeev and Naga were the coaches at the Regional Tennis Centre (RTC) at that time. I’m proud of the development work done at the RTC.

“The future for tennis looks bright. Fiji had a separate team at the Davis and Fed Cup before, but then Oceania formed a team which Fiji joined.

“For the Pacific, I would like to see the RTC expanded. There needs to be funding to build two more courts and a complex to host about 15-20 children at Nadovu Park. There is a lot of room at Nadovu Park and that is what Pacific tennis needs. Australia and New Zealand have everything they want. The question is how much the Pacific Island nations have.”

Reddy, the former long time Tennis Fiji president and national coach, classed O’Connell as a champion for the development of the sport in the region.

He said O’Connell changed the concept of tennis and also built a new structure to create pathways for junior players from the region to earn ITF scholarships in the US. Some of the players from Fiji who earned ITF scholarships in the US included Archana Reddy, Devashkar Reddy, Christopher Hargrove, Valu Fa, Tavu Fa, Finau Fa, Tarani Kamoe, Adalyn Hazelman, Annie Shannon and Daneric Hazelman.

O’Connell also spent 15 years as a tennis development officer in South Africa.

He retired from the sport three years ago and is based at Phoenix, Arizona, US.

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