Tennis: Erakovic out to grow arsenal

By Michael Brown

Kiwi knows she needs to up game to meet ambition as she prepares for chance to top $1m in prize money.

Marina Erakovic should be able to reach at least the semifinals. Photo / APN
Marina Erakovic should be able to reach at least the semifinals. Photo / APN

In a sport in which the player with the most weapons normally wins, Marina Erakovic knows she needs to add more to her arsenal.

The Kiwi No1 tennis player has enjoyed a decent year. She climbed to a career-high ranking of 39, played in her second WTA final, won two WTA doubles events and banked US$315,228 ($383,767) in prize money.

But niggling injuries, her ongoing struggles at grand slam events - she has not gone past the second round since 2008 - and a first-round defeat at the Olympics means she looks back on 2012 as only all right.

Erakovic wants to be a top-20 player and, at 24, knows she needs to develop her game. She knows she needs more than a good serve and forehand to jump from her present ranking of 66 and some of that might be in evidence at the ASB Classic, which starts in Auckland on Monday.

"The last couple of years I have been trying to hit the ball bigger, trying to move better, be fitter and make the forehand and serve bigger," she said.

"They are still things I am working on. I think next year I will probably look at taking the ball a little earlier and try to get into the net a little bit to finish those points off. It's just getting stronger and hitting bigger.

"I felt I was lagging behind in everything, from movement to especially the mental side. Nothing can prepare you for matches like matches. It's that simple; just going out there and playing the tennis. The realisation of needing to hit bigger was probably when I started working with [coach] Chris Zahalka. He was really keen on that. At first I didn't really understand, but I get it now. Even when you practice, you really want to be hitting it like you want to be hitting it in a match."

Overseas players have started to drift into the city to prepare, including Canadian wildcard hopeful Eugenie Bouchard.

Erakovic normally prepares for the ASB Classic in Auckland, but spent three weeks this month with Zahalka in Florida. A good run at Stanley St will see her surpass US$1 million in career earnings and become the first New Zealander since Brett Steven in the 1990s to achieve the feat.

She has banked US$989,318 since turning professional in 2006 and, with the ASB Classic offering US$235,000 in prizemoney, could pass the figure next week.

It would require an improvement on her past three outings in Auckland which saw her bundled out in the first round, but she has the potential to match her semifinal appearance of 2008. She will also be among the favourites in the doubles. She is paired with Brit Heather Watson and the pair have won both WTA tournaments they have played together.

The draws will be made on Saturday and Erakovic will hope to avoid top seeds like world No4 Agnieszka Radwanska, Julia Gorges (18), Yanina Wickmayer (23) and former world No2 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has slipped to 72 after injuries.

She has the ability and experience to compete with players of that calibre and hopes she now has the firepower to do it more regularly.

Marina Erakovic

*Age: 24
*Ranking: 66
*Career earnings: US$989,318
*Erakovic has played two WTA doubles tournaments with Brit Heather Watson and won them both. She's won seven WTA doubles tournaments overall but is still looking for her first singles title.

- APNZ

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