TWO friends who travel the world playing tennis and chasing ATP rankings points relished the chance to compete in front of an adoring crowd in Warrnambool on Monday.
Queenslander Calum Puttergill and Melburnian Aaron Addison displayed class on and off the court during their Warrnambool Lawn Open men's singles final, including the ball kids and young fans watching from either end of the court.
Puttergill, who won a high-quality match 7-5, 6-4, said they loved the chance to compete at the seaside competition.
"I really enjoyed the casualness of it in a way, having people sit at the back of the court," he said.
"I was asking the kids 'where should I serve?' in big moments. I was trying to talk to them and get them to coach me as we were going along and keep it light-hearted and entertaining.
"The atmosphere is incredible. Everybody has been so warm and to celebrate tennis like this and come together as a community is super special.
"I have been to so many tournaments and I have never seen a vibe like this."
Puttergill, 28, said having Addison alongside him on their tennis journeys was comforting.
"It is a really healthy, competitive relationship and we are pushing each other to be better at the same time," he said.
"It is a pleasure to play with him."
Puttergill, who was born in South Africa and moved to Australia when he was four, will travel to Asia and Europe this year to compete.
"Part of it is remembering how small of a window it is - once I have a wife, kid and mortgages, it's not as easy to be so nomadic," he said.
"I am trying to relish the lack of tie down at the moment. My task when I wake up is to be better at tennis and travel to places I wouldn't necessarily go as a tourist and it's been really rewarding.
"The sport has taught me a lot about myself as well."
Puttergill, whose career-high ATP singles ranking is 663, said he had to "watch a lot of work get undone" during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I am re-grouping and going again," he said.
A player whose main focus is now social enjoyment took out the women's singles final.
Schoolteacher Steph Barnett, who works for Haileybury College, defeated Danielle McIntyre 6-1, 6-1.
"It was a really fun match. I played against Dani, a girl I have pretty much grown up with," she said.
"We both enjoyed it out there and I just had a better day than she did. Normally it's fairly even.
"I played smart, came to the net a bit and on the grass it's always good to attack."
Barnett, 27, is familiar with the Warrnambool grass courts, having been a regular since childhood.
"It is always a good event and it's getting better each year because it's getting more social," she said.
"I play for fun now. I went to college and played competitively for six years and now I just hit every few weeks."
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.