16 January 2010
Wanganui Croquet Club, Wanganui, North Island, NZ
by David Ogilvie in Wanganui Chronicle, Wanganui, North Island, NZ
photo by photographer
|HOOPLA: Present New Zealand Open croquet champion, Englishman Stephen Mulliner (front) and 14-times winner of the event Bob Jackson (Auckland), were practising yesterday for today's start in the national event at the Wanganui Croquet Club's lawns.|
Stephen Mulliner has recently won the Australian Open croquet title, but such is the strength of the field in the New Zealand Open in Wanganui this week that he's no certainty to retain the title he won in this event last year.
The amiable Englishman was one of the very first visitors, with veteran Kiwi and 14-times winner Bob Jackson, to be on the local lawns yesterday, getting himself used to the speed of a place he hasn't played before.
And that speed is slower than Christchurch, where Mulliner won his title last year.
Mulliner won the Australian Open in Adelaide in November and says his form is good after recent concentration on the game.
"I gave myself two to three years off employed work because my form had rather fallen off — to see whether practice would make a difference. And it seems to have done so.
"I'm back in the top five in the world, but there's a very good field here. Apart from people like Bob (Jackson), you have Chris Clarke — who is the No1 ranked player in the world and now lives in New Zealand — and you have Paddy Chapman and Aaron Westerby, two of the very best Kiwis, and Robert Fletcher, who is the new wunderkind from Victoria.
"He's just 16 and reached the semifinals of the world championship last May at his first attempt."
Jackson says his form "is average" — but then concedes he's been playing "reasonably well this season."
Jackson says Clarke could be the hardest to beat, but concedes Mulliner should adjust to the Wanganui lawns quickly.
The Wanganui lawns are a lot slower than those in Christchurch in the past two years, but of a nice speed to play shots.
"The Christchurch lawns were almost unplayable, they were so fast."