Ayana gets a wildlife welcome

IT is a big moment for many international tennis players when they arrive in Australia.

For Ayana Rengiil, from the tiny west Pacific island nation of Palau, that moment came on Wednesday, on her way to Albury Grasscourts with her Tallangatta host family.

“We were driving and all of sudden this kangaroo just hopped on to the road,” Ayana, 13, said.

“It surprised me, I was like wow, there’s a kangaroo there.

“I was thinking ‘this is Outback Australia’, It was good to see.”

The aspiring player and Margaret Court Cup competitor has visited Australia once before, when she was three.

She didn’t see any wildlife on that trip, instead discovering her now-favourite player Venus Williams.

“I’ve always loved Venus,” she said. “The only thing I really remember from that trip was watching her play and that’s how she became my favourite.

“I just kept watching her.”

With dreams of having a high world ranking, the next five days are pivotal for Ayana and the tournament’s juniors.

She said the biggest test would be coming to terms with the “difficult” grass surface.

“I haven’t played on grass before,” Ayana said.

“It’s a little bit difficult but I guess that will make my matches a little more interesting.

“I just want to play my best over the next few days and show people I’m a good player.

“I’m still thinking about what I want to do with tennis but one day I want to at least get ranked somewhere high.”

Palau, which has a population of just 21,000, shares borders with Indonesia and the Philippines.

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