Matavao, right, and Semisi Fanguna, left, pictured with their coach after they won Tonga’s first gold medal in tennis at the 2019 South Pacific Games.
A pair of Ōtara-based Pacific Games gold medalists are gearing up to take on some of best tennis players in Auckland.
Republished with permission of Stuff.co.nz
Two Tongan brothers from South Auckland are helping promote tennis in the community through their club in Ōtara, after it qualified for the biggest regional premier competition.
Matavao and Semisi Fanguna will be leading the East Tamaki Domain Tennis Club from Ōtara in the Caro Bowl – which features Auckland’s top tennis players.
The brothers won Tonga's first tennis gold medal in the 2019 South Pacific Games, in the men’s open doubles.
Matavao, 27, said qualifying for the Caro Bowl was a huge achievement for the club.
“It’s the big league, and for a club from south Auckland, made up predominantly by Pacific Islanders, it’s a pretty amazing achievement,” he said.
Before 2008, the brothers had never picked up a racket.
It was only when they moved to New Zealand with their family that they did, while tagging along with their aunt and uncle on weekends to play tennis.
“It was just something to do with the family, play with the cousins,” 26-year-old Semisi said.
“It wasn’t serious, or a sport we’d thought we’d end up playing competitively.”
Semisi decided earlier on to focus on tennis, while his older brother had a different pathway, opting instead to focus on school rugby.
They were chosen to represent Tonga tennis in the 2011 South Pacific Games, and lost in the early rounds, but that experience challenged them both to put their all into the sport.
“We had no experience in a big tournament like that, and after the loss, I remember just feeling embarrassed by the outcome,” Semisi said.
“We didn’t want that to happen again.”
They went on to compete in other competitions, including the mini South Pacific Games in Vanuatu in 2018, where they won bronze.
In the 2019 SPG, Matavao said everyone was happy that they made it to the final.
“Everyone was saying that at least we won Tonga’s first silver medal in tennis, but Semisi and I looked at each other and believed we could do more than that.
“The night before the game we told ourselves we’d go for the gold, and we did. It was a very emotional win for us.”
Semisi now works in construction and Matavai was a full-time tennis coach. They’ve been preparing for the Caro Bowl, for what they hope will be a good outing against some of New Zealand’s best players.
Matavai hopes more young Pacific people will take up the sport.
“When I decided to focus on tennis competitively, it was a bit too late for me, but Semisi has been doing wonders in the sport.
“For me, my aim now is to show young Pacific kids that there is a future in tennis, and it can take you places.”
East Tamaki Domain Tennis Club will host its first Caro Bowl home games on October 29 from 2pm to 4pm, and November 12.