There can’t have been many stranger sights back in the seventies than that of Onny Parun standing at the service line , all the while biting on a piece of string, as he prepared to serve.
Odd it may have been, but, one should never knock what clearly works. And work it did for the Wellington born Parun, who used the string to hold his head in place while serving due to a neck injury. That it could have prematurely ended the career of one of New Zealand’s finest tennis players would have been a travesty.
But, it didn’t deter Parun, who with some good old fashioned Kiwi number eight wire ingenuity came up with a solution to prolong his career. And there surely must have been many a Kiwi tennis fan that will be forever grateful that Parun was able to play on well into his thirties.
Parun, born in 1947 and of Croatian descent, paraded his ability on the word stage for close to seventeen years from 1966. During that time he became one of only three New Zealanders to reach a grand slam singles final. Having reached the 1973 Australian Open final against John Newcombe he fell at the last hurdle. Still, it was a magnificent achievement. Only Anthony Wilding before him had reached a grand slam final (Chris Lewis was ten years away at that stage). A quarterfinal spot at the US open also beckoned that same year.
Parun had threatened to for some time to break through to the top echelons of world tennis. He had already reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1971 and 1972 and was holding a world ranking of 20 during those two years. So, with his first grand slam final appearance in 73, he had definitely made it in the world of tennis. That form stayed with him for another three years as his ranking remained in the top twenty, culminating in a career high of eighteen in May 1975.
During that five year span, Parun was to team up with Australian Dick Crealy in 1974 to win the men’s doubles at the French Open. Surely, a fitting result for a player that had toiled away for so long, working hard on his game and never giving up, too come away with some of the spoils in a major tournament.
It wasn’t just doubles titles that Parun had the tenacity to procure. From 1974 through to 1976, he collected himself five ATP tour singles titles. Fitting, too, that two of these (1975/76) were in front of his home crowd at the then named Benson and Hedges Open, played at the home of New Zealand tennis, Stanley Street. On both occasions he beat his fellow countryman in Brian Fairlie. The 1975 vintage was of a titanic struggle. Plentiful action abounded in his marathon five set victory. One year later they did their version of Groundhog Day when they once again went into battle. Once again Parun prevailed in five sets.
Throughout his career, Parun could never be accused of a lack of commitment towards playing for his country. From early 1967 as a teenager through until 1982 at the age of thirty-five, he was the backbone of this country’s Davis Cup squad. Along with a core group of players of the ilk of Fairlie, Lewis and Russell Simpson, he helped New Zealand from the mid seventies until the early eighties to an unparalleled level of success in what is the tennis world’s premier team’s event.
Parun won thirty of thirty-two Davis Cup matches. This at first glance may not appear anything startling. However, over his fifteen years he had to contend with some of the world’s best such as Rod Laver, Newcombe, the great Ken Rosewall as well as the likes of Indian Vijay Armitraj. Pretty lofty company, indeed. To come close to a fifty percent winning record over a lengthy period was a mighty performance.
After his retirement from professional tennis, Parun, went on to live and coached successfully in Britain for twenty years. Which was a shame for New Zealand tennis to miss out on a person of the quality of Parun. And tennis, here, certainly could have done with his help, as it these days appears to be in downward spiral into oblivion.
Over the last decade he has returned to New Zealand and now coaches in Wellington. But there is no sign of Parun being approached to manage the Davis Cup squad. What better person could there be to help tennis in this country out of the doldrums? For Parun was a man that got results throughout his career not just from talent but, also, sheer hard work.
Despite this, he has been recognised in the form of an OBE for services to tennis.
It is a richly deserved reward for Parun who has dedicated his life to the game he loves, not to mention helping young players achieve their dreams.