Rain stops play for Russian star

By Beck Vass

Maria Sharapova's attendance at the ASB Classic has given ticket sales a major boost, say organisers. Photo / Dean Purcell
Maria Sharapova's attendance at the ASB Classic has given ticket sales a major boost, say organisers. Photo / Dean Purcell

Tennis superstar Maria Sharapova had to cancel her first practice because of Auckland's bad weather.

The Russian-born sporting sensation, who arrived at Auckland International Airport about 8.40am yesterday after a flight from Los Angeles, was unable to practise as planned yesterday because of the rain.

A tournament spokesman said last night that Sharapova, 23, and other competitors would be hoping for better weather today so they can get out on the court at the ASB Tennis Centre, where they begin competing in qualifying rounds from Saturday.

Fellow competitors include Svetlana Kuznetsova, twice a Grand Slam winner, and former world No 1 Dinara Safina.

Sharapova, who is here without her fiance, LA Lakers basketball player Sasha Vujacic, is expected to practise at the centre later today if weather permits.

The practice will be open to the media only as finishing touches are still being carried out before the revamped $26 million ASB Centre can be opened to the public.

Tournament spokesman Dave Worsley said Sharapova's presence at the tournament had significantly increased ticket sales compared with previous years.

"At this stage the ASB Classic is not quite a sell-out but it looks like it will be on most, if not all, of the sessions."

Mr Worsley said all players would be keen to have a hit on the court from today because they needed to get used to Auckland's weather.

The heat and humidity were quite a contrast to the cold temperatures being experienced where some of the players were coming from, he said.

Tournament organisers say that Sharapova, who has also won the 2006 US Open and the 2008 Australian Open, is expected to attend a public meet-and-greet at the Viaduct Harbour on Thursday between 5pm and 6pm.

This, however, is also weather-dependent.

Sharapova is the drawcard and the star the other players want to play against.

Romanian Liana Ungur arrived in New Zealand yesterday from Italy where she had been training.

Asked if she wanted the chance to face Sharapova on court she said: "Sure, why not. I hope so."

The 25-year-old, who was looking round a souvenir shop at her city hotel, said she was enjoying Auckland despite the weather.

It was much better here than at home where it was 2C and snowing.

GAME ON

2011 ASB Classic (women's tournament)

* Qualifying: Saturday, January 1 and Sunday, January 2.

* Main draw: Monday, January 3 to Saturday, January 8.

2011 Heineken Open (men's tournament)

* Qualifying: Saturday, January 8 and Sunday, January 9.

* Main draw: Monday, January 10 to Saturday, January 15.

- NZ Herald

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