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Tarlina's travelled a long way

Tarlina Tipungwuti never thought she would be a chance of making the ACT women's team for the inaugural Asia-Pacific Tennis League.

Then again, this protege of Wimbledon champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley has been defying the odds her entire life.

The 20-year-old Tiwi Islands native is the wild card in a six-strong squad featuring former world No.57 Annabel Parolo (nee Ellwood) and highly touted junior Ashley Keir.

Tipungwuti's resume is as diverse as it is intriguing.

Born in the remote Tiwi Islands, she didn't know a word of English when she enrolled in primary school, after moving to the western Queensland town of Cunnamulla at the age of four for a tennis clinic.

Tipungwuti was hooked, and hasn't put down the racquet since.


Her family was so supportive of her passion they moved to Gove in the Northern Territory after crossing paths with Goolagong Cawley.

''That's how we clicked, we've been friends ever since,'' Tipungwuti said.

''She's quite close to me.''

Another move to Darwin for more opportunities was followed by a switch to Canberra two years ago.

The language barrier is a thing of the past as she embarks on the final semester of a Year 12 course at TAFE.

It took Tipungwuti two years to get a grasp of English from her native Tiwi, returning there for holidays.

''There's not really much there, apart from a lot of family, love and culture,'' she said.

''We grew up around that, which makes it hard to adjust to white fella life.''

Sporting talent runs in the family, with her uncle Anthony playing for the Gippsland Power in last weekend's TAC Cup (under 18) grand final in Melbourne.

Keir is the highest-ranked player on the ACT team, which also includes Tipungwuti, Alison Bai, Tyra Calderwood and Nicole Hoynaski.

The 18-year-old is juggling her final year of secondary school at Erindale College with her playing commitments, the highlight a semi-final appearance in a US$10,000 tournament in Thailand earlier this year.

That's lifted her WTA ranking to 758, making her the sixth highest-ranked junior in Australia.

''I've been pretty consistent this year,'' Keir said.

''It's been extremely hard balancing travelling and study, but the school has been great and I'll be able to go to uni as well being a professional athlete. Hopefully I can have a good end of the year and play in the under 18 nationals leading into the Australian Open wildcard playoff.''

Parolo (nee Ellwood) reached a career-high world ranking of 57 in 1997 and will come out of retirement at age 34 to lead the youthful ACT squad.

Fellow veteran Todd Larkham is taking the same role with a men's team comprising Wimbledon juniors doubles champion Nick Kyrigos, Alex Bolt, James Frawley and Andrew Zedde. The five Australian conference winners, plus a team from the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Asia will compete in the national final at Melbourne Park during the 2013 Australian Open in January.