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Ken Hiskins

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Bio HE was coached by the legendary Harry Hopman, played at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and counts Neil Fraser, Mervyn Rose and Peter McNamara among his most famous scalps.

Launceston tennis coach and former pro-tour player Ken Hiskins called time this week on a 58-year love affair with the game.

The 65-year-old took his last coaching lesson at the Launceston Tennis Academy after hitting countless tennis balls during thousands of hours on courts all over the world.

``I've been playing tennis since I left school and basically working for myself and teaching kids,'' he said.

``I'm pretty proud of what I achieved for a boy from Wangaratta - all I ever wanted to do was to play Wimbledon.

``I did that and the Australian Open, played on the pro tour and coached Davis Cup and Federation Cup teams - and no one can take that away from me.''

Born and bred in regional Victoria, Hiskins took up tennis aged seven after being given his first racquet by his father who was curator at the Wangaratta Tennis Club.

It began a life-long love affair with the game that provided him a living for more than half a century.

Having won the 1964 Victorian junior country tournament as a teenager, he was talent spotted by the famous Australian Davis Cup coach Hopman and tennis legend Fraser.

``Hoppy'' invited him to move to Melbourne as a 17-year-old to join his elite squad where Hiskins worked for two years before deciding it was time to test his game on the overseas tour.

``Hopman was a disciplinarian - he was hard but very fair and you would not question him one bit - he was god,'' he said.

``He could read whether you had talent and wanted to pursue it.

``He was the master, the greatest, I think.''

With 100 pounds in his pocket given to him by his father, the 20-year-old set off on a boat to England in 1966.

Hiskins played mixed doubles in the last amateur Wimbledon championship in 1967 and mixed and singles at the first open Wimbledon in 1968.

He also took part in the world's first open tennis tournament in Bournemouth where Rod Laver won the singles title.

Basing himself in Wales, he stayed at the home of Graham Jenkins, brother of Richard Burton, and boasts meeting the famous actor and wife Elizabeth Taylor a couple of times.

``Just to make the Wimbledon draw was a thrill and an honour,'' Hiskins said.

``I had wins and losses against quality players.

``I was particularly proud to beat Jean Chanfreau at Wimbledon qualifying in 1967 when he was No.2 in France and Stanley Matthews the British Davis Cup player.''

His most important singles and doubles tournament titles came in Geneva and Kitzbul in 1967, and Bordeaux in 1968.

``Bordeaux is quite a big tournament, now worth about half-a-million dollars and I think I won about a dozen bottles of wine and about $100 in those days,'' Hiskins said.

He returned home in 1970 to try to gain an Australian ranking only to find his professional tennis career interrupted by a national service call-up.

After being conscripted, he managed to avoid a trip to Vietnam and spent two years instead as a physical training instructor at the Puckapunyal army base in Victoria.

``It put a real dampener on my tennis career and following my stint in the army, I made the choice to pursue a professional coaching career while still trying to play a bit,'' he said.

``Tennis Australia gave me a couple of wildcard entries to the Australian Open and I qualified and played singles and doubles in 1973-74.

``We played at Kooyong on grass and that's when the professional ATP tour was just getting started.

``I qualified by beating Mervyn Rose but think I lost to Kim Warwick in the first round.

``I played doubles with John Eastbourne and we had Ross Case and Geoff Masters, the Wimbledon champions, a set and 4-2 on No.1 court and we blew it.

``It taught me never to get ahead of myself - thinking about winning before you've won - something I've tried to teach my students.''

With little money, no ranking and a family to support, Hiskins became a full-time professional coach in 1974 and stints in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Americas and Australia followed.

``I was national coach of Israel and then spent six years as the head professional in Rot-weiss Cologne in Germany where we lived from 1980-85,'' he said.

``We raised three kids Jeremy, Justine and Rachel, all of whom learnt to play hockey while we lived in Germany.

``Two of whom went on to play hockey for Australia and the third went to the US on a hockey scholarship and became an All-American- so sport has been a big part of our family life.''

When they returned from Germany to Australia, Hiskins took up a job as head coach at Boroondarra Tennis Association where he supervised 12 other full-time coaches and coached Joanne Limmer, who became an Australian junior champion.

He followed that with various stints on the international circuit coaching professional players including German Alex Mronz from 1980-86 who was ranked 70 in the world, German Maja Zivic (1990-92), Swiss Federation Cup member Michelle Strebel (1993), Pole Katerina Novak, Austrian Udo Plumberger and Australian Leigh Holland (1996).

Coaching in Switzerland at one stage, fellow Australian coach Peter Carter sent a young protege to train with Hiskins and his four Swiss players for a couple of weeks.

``It was Roger Federer and he was only about 14 at the time but bad-tempered - he was very fiery in those days,'' Hiskins said.

After 10 years touring the world as a coach and being away from his wife and family - he counts missing out on the chance to see his two children play their first hockey games for Australia as his greatest disappointment - he decided it was time to call it quits and headed home.

Hiskins and wife Lorraine moved to Tasmania in 1996, so he could take up a coaching job at the Launceston Indoor Sports Centre and taper down.

``It went the other way and I became involved as state coach along with Simon Youl and later took over the Launceston Tennis Academy,'' he said.

``I've coached thousands of kids during my career.

``I've had some good kids come through here who could have been really good pro tennis players - Sam Swan, George Bailey, Gillie Bailey, Alex Doolan and Bethany McFarlane.''

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Hiskins said making the move to Tasmania had been a blessing in disguise.

``I could name a lot of people to thank them but they know who they are - but I want to mention Denis and Liz Tucker and also Simon Youl,'' he said.

``We've been here now 16 years and I'm 65.

``I think it is time to step back now and try to enjoy life a little bit more, smell the roses, spend time with my three grandkids and devote more time to my passion of art.''
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