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Kiwis hope Wimbledon success can earn share of spotlight

© AFP/File / by Steven GRIFFITHS | New Zealand's Artem Sitak (L) and Michael Venus, pictured in February 2017, are part of a talented group of Kiwis thriving on the world tour without receiving much publicity back home

LONDON (AFP) - 

Inspired by the Grand Slam heroics of compatriot Michael Venus, Wimbledon doubles contender Artem Sitak hopes New Zealand's emerging tennis stars will spike the sport's popularity in his rugby-obsessed country.

Sitak is part of a talented group of Kiwis thriving on the world tour without receiving much publicity back home, where the All Blacks' rugby exploits against the British and Irish Lions hog the headlines.

Venus made history last month when he became the first New Zealander to win a Grand Slam title since 1979 by lifting the French Open men's doubles crown with American partner Ryan Harrison.

Following Venus's example, Russia-born Sitak is making waves after moving into the third round of the men's doubles at Wimbledon with American partner Nicolas Monroe.

But while the All-Blacks are followed avidly by their legion of fans, tennis hasn't made the breakthrough in the same way -- something that Sitak would love to change with a strong run at Wimbledon.

"I wish it would get more coverage, especially now with three of us playing at a really high doubles level," Sitak told AFP after he and partner Olga Savchuk were knocked out of the mixed doubles on Saturday.

"Marina Erakovic being a top 100 singles player as well. From a very small country I think that's massive.

"Mike Venus winning the French Open was absolutely amazing. We also produced some good results in Davis Cup. We just recently beat Korea to stay in Group 1, which is a huge achievement for us.

"People love tennis in New Zealand and hopefully it will get bigger and bigger."

While Sitak, 31, would enjoy seeing tennis in the spotlight, he is already relishing life in New Zealand after gaining citizenship along with his Ukrainian wife.

"I went through the immigration process. It was a very long process. A lot of people helped me," he said.

"It turned out perfectly. My wife and I live there. We're both New Zealand citizens and we're both really happy there."

- Modest -

Inspired by Venus's doubles triumph in Paris and relishing his time on Wimbledon's grass courts, Sitak believes he and Monroe are capable of emulating his compatriot's Grand Slam victory.

"Grass is my favourite surface. I wish the season would be longer. It's only five weeks so I've got to make the most of it," he said.

"Obviously seeing Mike win the French Open we all strongly believe we can do that too. He believed and that's why he won."

In the doubles third round, Sitak and Monroe face Marcin Matkowski and Max Mirnyi, while Venus and Harrison take on Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers, and fellow Kiwi Marcus Daniell plays with Marcelo Demoliner against Ken and Neal Skupski.

The modest Venus isn't an attention seeker, preferring to let his game to the talking, but he was delighted to see a small band of Kiwis backing him during Saturday's win over Johan Brunstrom and Andreas Siljestrom.

"That was unbelievable. I wasn't expecting that when we went out there. They were straight into it. They were really vocal. It was so great. It felt like home," he said.

"The Kiwi humour is growing on Ryan. He likes to have an atmosphere and people getting into it."

United States-based Venus, 29, hasn't taken much time to reflect on his sudden success, but he believes New Zealanders are beginning to get more passionate about tennis.

"Probably a combination of we've all been doing well over the last couple of years and there's definitely more Kiwis in London," he said.

"It's awesome that we've all made it into the second week here. Hopefully we can keep progressing."

by Steven GRIFFITHS

© 2017 AFP