World-class age group tennis player Evan Dela Rue’s home office is chock-full of medals and trophies won over many years on the international and national scene. Photo / Colin Thorsen
Kaipaki’s Evan Dela Rue, 87, claimed both his 28th and 29th national tennis titles at the 2023 Pascoes Tennis Masters National Championships in Christchurch in late January.
The five-day event saw Kaipaki Tennis Club life member Dela Rue win the 80-plus singles and doubles titles, a feat he also achieved last year in Tauranga.
“I had to play down because of numbers – now there’s no over-85s because there’s bugger all of us left,” says Dela Rue, who now plays out of Hamilton’s Lugton Park Tennis Club.
“It was very enjoyable. I only had one game a day, and it was so relaxing.”
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He first took up tennis as a junior and competed in the Auckland Secondary Schools Tennis Championships while at Sacred Heart College.
“I was lucky I spent a couple of years in Auckland. Wiseman Sports Store used to be the main sports shop; they imported an ex-Davis Cup player, Neil Edwards, to come over and coach the promising players from Auckland secondary schools,” he says.
Dela Rue made the cut and received coaching from Neil that he never forgot.
In 1950, he was selected as a ball boy for the world tennis troop at Stanley Street, with the likes of world superstars Don Budge, Pancho Gonzales, Dinny Pails and Frank Parker involved.
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“I played until I was about 18. I was in the country here and ran out of competition. I was No 1 – so, I had to get to Hamilton to play the top players to improve. I couldn’t, because I was milking cows.”
He gave tennis away and played cricket for 35 years for Kaipaki and Te Awamutu until he bought his own block of land.
“Buying a farm, I got under pressure, so I went back to tennis. I was way in my 50s then. I started to get some form again, and then I got asked to play overseas for New Zealand.”
Dela Rue has since played tennis overseas four times, including his memorable 2017 season, which culminated with a plate victory in the singles and a silver medal partnered in the mixed doubles with Jean Stevens of Otago at the World Championships in Orlando – the pair held their No 2 world ranking for 12 months.
“I like the competition. I’m very competitive – always have been. I know a heck of a lot of people now because I’ve played overseas. The social part of it is quite important, no matter what you’re doing,” he says.
“At the moment, I’ve had a breathing problem and I’m not supposed to be playing, but I’ve just got to keep going. I just enjoy it so much. I’ve always kept fit. It’s just the breathing that affects me.
“Recently, I’ve been playing more socially, but with the nationals, I’m pretty bloody serious there.”