Tennis: Erakovic puts heat on NZOC

By Dylan Cleaver

Marina Erakovic has found form at an opportune time. Photo / Dean Purcell
Marina Erakovic has found form at an opportune time. Photo / Dean Purcell

For the second time in consecutive Olympics the NZOC will come under pressure to massage the selection criteria to squeeze Marina Erakovic into the team.

Erakovic has found form at an opportune time, winning her way through to the semifinals of a WTA event in Memphis. This morning the world No54 was scheduled to meet Russian Vera Dushevina, ranked 35 places lower at 89.

Regardless of whether she makes the final, Erakovic will enjoy a spike in the rankings when they are redrawn next week.

The International Olympic Committee accepts 56 direct entrances for the 64-person field at the Olympics based on world rankings on June 11. Unless Erakovic has a shocking loss of form, she should be well inside that, given that each country can nominate only four players.

With Russia alone having eight, players ranked higher than Erakovic and Germany and the Czech Republic also having more than four players inside the top 56, Erakovic's stocks continue to rise.

However the New Zealand Olympic Committee's selection criteria are a lot more stringent.

Section 2.2 of the NZOC's London selection document, titled "Overriding Objective", states: "In determining whether or not to nominate any player, the selectors must be satisfied overall that the player has the capability to achieve a top 16 placing in their event at the Games, with the potential to win an Olympic Diploma (top 8).

"Athletes must provide evidence of this through world rankings and credible results."

With a fortuitous draw, you could almost make a case that Erakovic stands a chance of winning the two matches that would take her into the top 16. However the class of the Olympic field, even taking into account the absence of half of Russia's top players, makes it fanciful to suggest she could progress through to the quarter-finals.

"New Zealand sets tough selection criteria and we believe New Zealand athletes can, and should, return credible performances at Olympic Games," said NZOC president and selector Mike Stanley.

"Athletes who fall outside [our selection] criteria but which show a rapidly improving performance profile may be considered on a case-by-case basis. At this stage we haven't received a nomination from Tennis New Zealand and we will assess it once we receive it."

Tennis NZ boss Steve Johns said the nomination would be made after the ITF rankings were finalised on June 11. "The NZOC are well aware that Marina is likely to make that cut-off. If she can get her ranking into the top 50, her form would make a great case for selection," he said.

Erakovic was selected for the Beijing Games after enjoying a rapid rise in her rankings. After finishing 2007 at 161 in the world, she had climbed to 49 by July 2008, her highest career ranking. Erakovic lost in the first round of the singles to Japan's Ayumi Morita, in a tough three-setter.

- NZ Herald

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