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Mid West Sport Awards: Darren Patten’s road to the Australian Open and back again

Jake Santa MariaGeraldton Guardian
Darren Patten stretches to play a forehand return in his match against David Culley at Wembley Downs Tennis Club in 1999.
Camera IconDarren Patten stretches to play a forehand return in his match against David Culley at Wembley Downs Tennis Club in 1999. Credit: Bill Hatto/WA News

Get your nominations in for this year’s Geraldton Guardian Mid West Sport Awards, which close on October 24. Today, we look back at one of the region’s best stars.

Most Mid West hall of famers would have a lock on being one of the best ever players of their sport from the region, but Darren Patten doesn’t think he’s the best in his own family.

“Oh, the old man’s the best player of the family, no question that he’s the coaches coach. He was a great mentor,” he said.

Patten made his way from humble beginnings all the way to the courts of Melbourne Park, but it was no easy journey.

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“I was born in Geraldton and tennis has a long, long lineage in our family, my brothers and I used to go down to the Geraldton tennis club at every opportunity and my parents built a brick wall out the back of our place on Harvey Street that used to get an absolute hammering,” he said.

“I used to play in all the Mid West tournaments and junior pennants in Yuna, Chapman Valley and from there my parents conjured up a bit of money and we’d travel to Perth for a few junior tournaments and started to get noticed around 12 to 13.

“We drove back and forth 40 weekends of the year leaving Geraldton on a Friday afternoon, driving up to Perth, stay with our grandmother and then come back on a Sunday evening.”

Patten said the travel was not the easiest thing for him or his family to live with.

“Three boys in the back of a car driving to Perth, the five-hour trip and three young boys in the backseat causing a ruckus my dad used to stop every 100km and threaten to grab a big stick off a tree to keep us in line,” he said.

“The patience my dad showed was quite remarkable, but it was very difficult there was no funding for airline flights and this sort of thing.

“But it was the passage that had to be taken to develop our tennis with few opportunities in Geraldton.”

But his hard work paid off as Patten was lucky enough to earn a half scholarship to Christ Church Grammar school and allowing him to develop his tennis further.

After graduating he played club tennis in Germany for over 11 years and found himself on the ATP tour, but one of his biggest successes came when partnering with his father Don.

“We had the world father-and-son championships and we were able to actually win that a couple of times once in Malaga in Spain and then the second year we competed with John Newcomb and Clint you come in Lugano, Switzerland.”

From there he qualified for the Australian championships and his performances got him a shot on the biggest stage as a wildcard entry to the 1990 Australian Open.

“It was pretty special a lot of people obviously rally around you and behind the tennis fraternity is pretty small to a degree but yeah, there was a lot of general public there.”

Patten had a tough draw losing to American Dan Goldie 6-4,6-4,6-3 in the first singles round and the No.2 seeds John Fitzgerald and Paul Annacone in the doubles.

However, Patten said he believed his biggest highlight was a year prior at the 1989 Australian Indoor Championships.

“It was prime time on television on channel 10. It was the Sydney Entertainment Centre,” he said.

“5000-odd people watching me play Slobodan Zivojinovic it really made me feel like I belonged.”

It would be Patten’s only major appearance in his career but Patten was not done with tennis, coaching for many years after retirement.

“My proudest moment of all on the coaching side was coaching Casey Dellacqua from the time she was 11, until she went off to the Institute of Sport when she was 19,” he said.

“But I got to the point where tennis had consumed my life and I had a complete career change starting a not-for-profit Murlpirrmarra Connection Limited where we look after kids in remote areas, and give them opportunities to go to different schools and education support.”

But tennis is still part of Patten using it to help kids in remote communities.

“Inside of that, there’s a program which we’ve created called Indigenous tennis and learning where we take tennis to every remote area in Western Australia,” he said.

“It’s recently just Federally funded, which is just great so it’s given us a real opportunity to the next few years, and really build on that and give these kids a chance.”

Patten was inducted into the Mid West Sports Federation Hall of Fame in 2006 and said it was an honour to be part of the exclusive group.

“I’m very proud to be recognised for where you’ve come from and for what you’ve done in a sport that has taken me around the world away from Geraldton nationally and internationally,” he said.

“To be able to be on board with the likes of Karen Jupp and Chris Mainwaring is very humbling, it makes me very proud and feel like a real Geraldtonian.”

To make a nomination for this year’s awards or to find out more about the categories, visit the Mid West Sports Federation website, with tickets also now available to purchase from the site.

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