Tennis New Zealand has slammed the omission of Michael Venus from the 2018 Halberg Award finalists, saying it was very difficult to understand.
Last year, Venus became New Zealand’s first grand slam winner since 1979 when he claimed the French Open doubles title alongside American Ryan Harrison.
Venus and Harrison also qualified for the season ending ATP championships in London, where they were unbeaten in pool play to make the semifinals.
Venus became just the second player from New Zealand, after Brett Steven in 1995, to qualify for that event.
Despite those achievements, Venus was overlooked for the Sportsman of the Year category, with Tom Walsh, Brendon Hartley, Beauden Barrett and Ross Taylor selected as the quartet of finalists.
“I don’t want to speak for Mike but from our perspective at Tennis New Zealand we are really disappointed for him,” said TNZ High Performance Simon Rea.
“I’m not sure that there is much more that he could have done to put himself in contention. Whilst subjective decisions of that nature are always tricky it would have been good to have him as a finalist and it’s very hard to understand.”
Rea was careful to point out that he didn’t want to denigrate the other finalists – but admitted he was surprised that Venus wasn’t placed among the top contenders for the award.
“I understand that the subjective nature of selection in these type of events is a minefield, said Rea. “We are a proud sporting nation and we achieve at a high level in a number of sports. That being said, our sport is particularly brutal and particularly difficult to achieve on a consistent basis at an elite level and Mike has done just that in 2017.”
“He is the first New Zealander in 38 years to have grand slam success, and not only that, but to have achieved at the top of his chosen sport, or close to the top of his chosen sport over the calendar year, he has put forward a really compelling case.
“He and Ryan have been ranked in the top 10, and finished with a semifinal charge at the year-end world championships. I’m not sure how many more runs on the board he could have put forth, without being named a finalist.”
Some pundits will no doubt point to the fact that Venus’ accomplishments came in doubles, which lacks profile compared to singles but Rea said that was irrelevant.
“The playing depth in our sport is such it doesn’t demean or undermine the achievement to any significant extent at all. I know the investment that has gone on for him to be the player he is today, and also the year that he has had.”
There have been many head-scratching decisions made over the last five years or so – which has coincided with more and more ex-athletes being put onto the judging panel.
It’s fine in theory, but former sportspeople don’t always have the wide-ranging knowledge to compare achievements across multiple sports.
Venus became only the fifth Kiwi to triumph at a grand slam, and the first Judy Chaloner in 1979. The last New Zealand male to achieve at that level was Onny Parun at the 1974 French Open.
Harrison and Venus had only linked up at the start of the clay season, and were unseeded going into the tournament.
The decision also disregards the global nature of tennis; there are 1680 doubles players with an ATP rankings, but the tennis majors are restricted to 64 teams and a lot of top singles players tend to play both formats at Grand Slams.