Auckland's women's tennis open should get off to a flying start today - notwithstanding an unfavourable weather forecast - with top-seed Flavia Pennetta and local hope Marina Erakovic featuring on centre court.
Erakovic will have her work cut out in her 2010 bow as she links with Slovenian Polona Hercog to take on the world's No1 doubles combination of Cara Black and Liezel Huber.
New Zealand's sole remaining ASB Classic hope after Ellen Barry and Kairangi Vano were bundled out in all-too-familiar fashion in the first round of qualifying, Erakovic is in confident mood heading into a tournament she hopes will kickstart a comeback after an injury-wrecked 2009.
"I'm playing very well. I've really done a lot of work and there is that saying - you've done the work and now it is time to play," she said.
Being the lone Kiwi yet again after Sacha Jones pulled out with an abdominal injury on Friday was disappointing, but it is hardly unfamiliar territory for Erakovic.
"It is hard. I wish that Sacha could have played. It would have been nice to have a couple of Kiwis in the main draw. But it is something I'm used to.
I'm sure the crowd will be behind me and it will be a lot of fun."
Today's match against Black and Huber should at least be a good hit-out, and it might not be the walkover it appears on paper. Erakovic has some pedigree as a doubles player, picking up three WTA titles in 2008. Hercog, who has been drawn against Israeli Shahar Peer in singles, has so far drawn a blank at WTA level but she has claimed four doubles titles at the lower ITF level.
That, of course, is small beer compared to Black and Huber, who have combined for four Grand Slams and 27 titles, but an upset is not impossible.
Erakovic will play her first round singles match against Frenchwoman Alize Cornet tomorrow.
Cornet is more famous for wearing a see-through top at last year's Hopman Cup than for any major tennis achievements, but the 50th-ranked 19-year-old does have a WTA title to her name, and has posted notable victories against the likes of Nadia Petrova and Pennetta.
She is, however, somewhat of a clay court specialist, so Erakovic will fancy her chances of maintaining her undefeated record in first-round matches in her home tournament.
"[Cornet] is a very talented player," Erakovic said. "She plays very well on clay and moves well, so it should be a good match. I'm looking forward to it."
The opening match on centre court sees third-seeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer take on 78th ranked German Julia Goerges.
Wickmayer required a wildcard to get into the tournament following the lifting of a suspension - pending an appeal - imposed by Belgian anti-doping authorities after she failed to notify them of her location under the whereabouts rule.
The 19-year-old, who rose from 77 to 16 in the world during a breakthrough 2009 season that included a run to the semifinals of the US Open, has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. Top-seed Pennetta then takes on veteran American Jill Craybas, followed by Erakovic's doubles match.
A battle between two former top-ten players, Russian Anna Chakvetadze and Kimiko Date-Krumm, closes out the day session.
The feature match of the night session sees popular Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai take on countrywoman Julie Coin.By Steve Deane Email Steve