Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Erakovic delivers midnight magic

Marina Erakovic. Photo / Photosport
Marina Erakovic. Photo / Photosport

It's early days, but Marina Erakovic has some momentum to start the 2016 season.

She has progressed to the second round of the ASB Classic, after a stirring 7-6 (2) 7-6 (3) over Yulia Putintseva.

The match concluded at 12.18am this morning, in front of an impressive crowd that stuck around for one of the latest finishes in tournament history.

It was a vital boost for the Kiwi - and also the event, after the shock defeats of Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic yesterday.

"I thought my level was good," said Erakovic. "The points were quite well structured and I found my rhythm..overall I was pretty happy with my game."

World No 135 Erakovic hadn't played at WTA level since the US Open last year, when she retired hurt midway through the second set of her first round match with a knee injury.

Putintseva is a tricky opponent; the world No77 stays in the rally, moves incredibly well and forces her opponents to hit winners. A good start yesterday was vital, to get the belief rolling again after so long since a competitive match.

Erakovic got it. She punched several forehand winners early on, then got her rhythm going in the other areas of her game.

Erakovic dominated the first set - constantly pressuring the Putintseva serve - but the Kazakstan player somehow forced a tiebreak. But Erakovic gave her no chance in the breaker, hitting some superbly placed forehands to win seven successive points after being down 0-2.

The 27-year-old Kiwi maintained the momentum in the second set, as Putintseva seemed to be on the verge of a meltdown. The 20-year-old vigorously disputed a line call in the tie break and then had a prolonged discussion with the umpire early in the second, angry about spectator noise between serves.

"I have played her before and I know she gets fiery - some players are like that," said Erakovic. "You have to deal with that and wait until it is over. It didn't bother me too much and I just tried to focus on myself and I think I handled it pretty well."

After breaking once early, Erakovic had several chances for a second break but couldn't take them, and was then broken back herself. Another tiebreaker ensued - with some of the best rallies of the night - and Erakovic again recovered from a early deficit to seal a vital win in front of a hardy crowd.

"It's great to be out there playing again, said Erakovic. "[But] it's only one match. Yes, I got through it but tomorrow is another day."

On Wednesday she faces world No63 Alexander Dulgheru in the second round, after the Romanian surprised Belgian eighth seed Alison Van Uytvanck on the opening day of the tournament.

"She is a very smart player," said Erakovic of the European. "She doesn't have any big weapons but moves well and structures the points very well."

- NZ Herald

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