Tennis: Few thrills, but some surprises

By Steve Deane

Hopefully the best is yet to come.

With a field of closely ranked players boasting no real stand-out, this year's ASB Classic was billed as one of the most competitive ever.

So far, the reality has been quite different.

Of the 24 singles matches to date, just two have gone to three sets - a first-round encounter on an outside court between Indian starlet Sania Mirza and Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele, and the final second-round match between Kimiko Date Krumm and Virginie Razzano.

The 39-year-old Krumm fought back from a set down to oust the fifth seed in a gritty display, but her resilience was far from the norm, with most of the 24 players culled so far departing with barely a whimper.

No classic encounters, then, but there were at least some surprises yesterday, with Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova ousting seventh seed Aravane Rezai 6-3, 6-4.

Sixth seed Elena Vesnina, last year's beaten finalist, was also a casualty, hammered by Frenchwoman Alize Cornet. The one-sided 6-1, 6-1 scoreline was typical of the day's encounters, with top seed Flavia Pennetta, third seed Yanina Wickmayer and fourth seed Francesca Schiavone barely raising a sweat while marching into today's quarter-finals.

The pick of the quarter-finals pits Schiavone against Cornet as the headline act of the night session.

After convincingly disposing of local hope Marina Erakovic and Vesnina, 19-year-old Cornet is shaping as a dark horse for the title.

She seems to be thriving in Auckland's genteel atmosphere, posting consecutive victories for the first time in six months. The even-handed crowd was a stark contrast to tournaments in Europe, she remarked after defeating Erakovic.

"I played in Italy against an Italian and it was lot different - they almost kill you on the court."

As fate would have it, that Italian was Schiavone, with Cornet pulling off a 6-3, 6-2 win in Rome in 2008.

Schiavone, however, leads the head-to-head series 2-1, having won two three setters. With centre court largely devoid of close contests, another tight encounter between the pair would be welcome tonight. Cornet is certainly expecting a tough outing.

"[Schiavone] is in such good shape at the moment," she said. "She fights a lot and I fight too, so I think it is going to be a big match for both of us."

Pennetta could also have a tough job against the impressive Cibulkova, a player who made the French Open semifinals last year.

"It is going to be very tough," Pennetta said. "She is playing unbelievable so for sure I have to play my best tennis to beat her."

In the bottom of the draw, third seed Wickmayer takes on Kimiko Date Krumm and Russian Maria Kirilenko meets Israeli Shahar Peer.

Peer progressed by thrashing Magdalena Rybarikova in a match disrupted by chanting anti-Israeli protesters, while Kirilenko dispatched Kaia Kanepi, the Estonian who knocked out second seed Li Na.

- NZ Herald

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