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Tennis: Erakovic denies asking for ASB appearance fee

Marina Erakovic says she doesn't want to be taken for granted. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Marina Erakovic says she doesn't want to be taken for granted. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Marina Erakovic says she never asked for an appearance fee from tournament director Karl Budge to enter this year's ASB Classic.

In contrast, Budge says he told the tennis star they could not afford a fee but would try to arrange a package which gave her some benefits for supporting her home tournament. Both parties could be right.

"I never asked for money, that's not correct," Erakovic said.

"The reason I think this has come about was because I suggested some players have been paid to play in the past and I wasn't. I'm not asking for money but I don't want to be taken for granted either. I love to play at home in front of family, friends and supporters. I do it for the right reasons but compare that with Canada, for example. If you were a top 50 player in their events, you would probably be paid to play."

"We had an up front conversation where I said we would see what we could make available to her," Budge said.

"My impression was they were looking for an appearance fee because Marina can go and get four times the prize money at the Brisbane International [played simultaneously]. To be fair to Marina, it's not all about the money. There are valuable ranking points at stake too, which, if she went well, means she could be a protected seed in Melbourne [at the Australian Open].

"We have a limited budget so we've got to be strategic in how we spend our money. It was a pretty frank discussion ... Marina had a strong case. She's won New Zealand's first WTA title since 1989 [at Memphis] and had two third-round appearances at grand slam events [Wimbledon and Roland Garros]. If I was her agent, I'd be requesting an appearance fee, too.

"I've spoken to her [Erakovic] about this since it broke and I don't bear her any grudge for asking that question. She's a world top 50 player competing in one of the top women's sports. Ask anyone on the street to name 10 female sports stars and I'll guarantee more than half would be tennis players."

Budge also sympathised with Erakovic's frustration at High Performance Sport New Zealand's refusal to offer funding for a fitness trainer of her choice and access to the Millennium Institute facilities ahead of the new season.

Erakovic was refused on the basis she was not one of the country's 434 'carded' athletes - as per a November 8 document listing them on the HPSNZ website. Tennis New Zealand is not a targeted sport so doesn't get taxpayer funding. HPSNZ instead offered her one of its own strength and conditioning coaches and entry to facilities on a user-pays basis. That offer was declined. "A lot of people have been talking about it since, so at least it has opened up debate," Erakovic said. "It was never an issue about funding. I just asked for help to find a fitness trainer. The current system seems too rigid, it'd be good to have more open-mindedness. The fact I'm not one of those carded athletes seems a little crazy.

"I'm doing it on my own out there and while home for a couple of months thought, 'I'll explore avenues as to how I can train better'. Other sports have great support systems around them but for me, I am that support system.

"It's difficult to produce tennis talent in such a small sporting country. We've had some great players but travelling to tournaments around the world is expensive.

"For women, tennis is one of the leading sports in the world for participation and media coverage."

Erakovic spends another week in New Zealand before heading to Florida. She has tournament earnings of US$532,000 ($649,000) this year.

- Herald on Sunday

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