Cook Islands tennis player Brett Baudinet at the Pacific Nations Cup in Fiji. 19052902
Twenty-one years on from his Davis Cup debut, tennis veteran Brett Baudinet says being able to represent the Cook Islands and the Pacific on the world stage remains a huge honour.
Baudinet runs five businesses and is raising a two-and-a-half-year-old boy -
but he always finds time for tennis.
39-year-old grew up with a racquet in hand: his parents, June and Brian, both
represented the Cook Islands, while his dad even played against Bjorn Bjorg in
got smashed,” chuckled Baudinet, the younger.
whole family has played: my dad and his brothers always hit the ball so I’ve
been around it ever since I was obviously born.
the time I was five years old and picking up balls for them they gave me a
racquet and I hit the very first ball right over the net and never stopped
since so yeah I love it.”
represented his country for the first time when he was eight years old, at the
Aotearoa Māori Tennis Championships in New Zealand, and said the Cook Islands
national coach, Malcolm Kajer, who is still in the role today, played a major
role in his development.
got to travel over to New Zealand and play against the best players there and
we were beating them,” he recalled.
I moved to New Zealand for school, I went to Kings College and in my first year
I became the number one under 14-year-old in New Zealand so that’s when I knew
I had something and to keep going with it.”
completing high school, the previous year, Baudinet made his Davis Cup debut in
February 2000, representing Pacific Oceania in the Asia/Oceania Group Three tie
in Sri Lanka.
in the year he moved to the United States after being awarded a scholarship to
the University of Michigan, although he admitted there weren’t many on campus who
had heard of the Cook Islands.
had no idea - people would say is that somewhere in Jamaica? They just didn’t
have a clue. I used to always tell them, the easiest way to explain it was if
you know where Hawaii is, you take Hawaii and the equator and you flip it over
that's exactly where the Cook Islands is.”
completing his studies, Baudinet spent six months trying to carve out a living
on the international tennis circuit before the gruelling travel schedule and
mounting costs proved too much.
2018 Cook Islands Sportsman of the Year said the Pacific Islands produced a
huge amount of talented tennis players but opportunities are tough to come by.
“Where it falls short here is that the kids get to the 15/16/17 year old age bracket and they’ve actually got nothing to look forward to because there's no pathway put in front of them,” he said.
“I’ve sort of been trying to encourage more of that with our sports associations here to say we should be putting together programmes and (working with) former top athletes that have a connection in the United States or wherever it might be with scholarship opportunities, so we can say to them we've got these doors open and if you train hard enough and go through the programme you can actually move on to get those scholarships.”
is currently training Cook Islands teenager Ruby Pierre in Rarotonga, who
recently returned from New Zealand, in an effort to help the 17 year earn a
scholarship to the US.
working with Danny Llarenas, my old doubles partner, who is a coach out in the
US as well for universities out there, and also an old teammate of mine, who
was also a doubles partner player (in Davis Cup), West Knott.
actually took his previous school and team to the number one in the US for women’s
tennis, so sort of trying to work with those guys with getting some connections
to look for scholarship opportunities for Ruby.”
said moving to places like Michigan can be a culture shock coming from the
Pacific Islands but said the opportunity to get a top education and play
against top players from all around the world was priceless.
mean the tennis facilities we had: we had eight indoor courts, 22 outdoor
courts, private physios, trainers, the whole nine yards.
really just blew my mind away but I was fortunate enough coming from New
Zealand where I had a little bit of experience with that sort of stuff. But
it’s not to say that these kids can’t do it so I do hope we do get a few more
of our Pacific players out there.”
Baudinet returned to Rarotonga about nine years ago, having also spent time
living in chilly Chicago before the warm weather and pull of family brought him
working in the tourism sector kept him busy during the day – yes, he’s excited
for the travel bubble that’s just opened up with New Zealand – the desire to
get out on court remained as strong as ever.
holds the record for most overall wins and most appearances for the Pacific
Oceania Davis Cup team and will captain the team for the first time in August,
after the Asia/Oceania Group Three event was postponed by two months because of
years on from his debut, he said being able to represent the Cook Islands and
the Pacific on the world stage remained a huge honour.
not just doing it for yourself, you’re not just doing it for your family but
you’re doing it for the whole country and the neat thing too for the Pacific
Oceania team is we're actually doing it for the whole Pacific.
one of the two nations that participate in Davis Cup tennis that actually
represent multiple countries under the one team so it’s a very unique position
in itself but I couldn’t be more honoured to get out there and do it every
Baudinet said it was a tough ask for Pacific Oceania to compete against players who are full-time tennis professionals and have bigger budgets and more time together on the road.
the team consistently punched above its weight while conditions have improved
in recent years, with players no longer needing to dip into their own pockets
to fund their travels, he said. Pacific Oceania, which includes Colin Sinclair
from the Northern Marianas, Papua New Guinea's Matthew Stubbings and Clement
Mainguy from Vanuatu, have targeted a top three finish in Vietnam later this
year to win promotion to the World Group Two Playoffs.
then it’s back to work and back to training. His dad is still hitting balls at
73 so it’s not like he has an excuse to slack off.
what about his own son, Blake - is there another budding tennis champion in the
parent sort of says, ‘oh my kid can play whatever he likes’. He obviously is
going to pick his sport but I’ve naturally got racquets and tennis balls all
over the place so I think he’ll be pretty excited to play the game.”