Voyage of discovery for tennis prodigies

FOR Hana Sonton and Zachary Viiala, the allure of contesting the elite Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament in Paris this month is fabulous – but it’s also secondary to a greater goal.

As chuffed as the young Australian pair is to contest the May 31-June 2 round-robin, both players view the event as a priceless opportunity to gauge progress. And learn.

“Hopefully I can do well but to get the experience of playing against other kids is exciting — and I get to know where I stand,” Sonton said.

“I’m very, very excited to have this opportunity. I’ve never been to Paris and I’ve not been overseas to compete so I will hopefully learn a lot.”

Coached by her mother Momoko, Sonton won Tennis Australia’s 12-and-under Showdown title last year — a victory which almost certainly attracted Longines’ attention.

The Gold Coaster will pit her skills against 19 rivals on clay at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Perth’s Viiala, the reigning national claycourt champion, is taking a similar approach to Sonton.

“I don’t really have any expectations, I just want to meet the new players and get the experience of playing players from around the world,” he said.

“I have no idea who I’ll come up against, but that’ll be good.”

Like Sonton, Viiala idolises Roger Federer and, despite triumphing on clay against Australia’s best juvenile athletes last year, regards hardcourt as his favourite surface.

Sonton and Viiala have never competed abroad before.

The duo will bid to emulate fellow Australian Destanee Aiava who won the Longines event in 2012.

Aiava, now 18, has since climbed to inside the world’s top 150 and, at 18, remains one of the sport’s finest long-term prospects.

Recently retired Casey Dellacqua today hit with Sonton and Viiala, passing on claycourt tips gleaned from a long, successful career.

Dellacqua’s claycourt resume includes the 2011 French Open mixed doubles crown with American Scott Lipsky.

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