Tennis: Erakovic to push Olympic case at French Open

By Matt Brown for APNZ

Marina Erakovic's Olympics fate might be determined by how she performs at the French Open starting on Sunday night.

The 24-year-old Aucklander heads to Roland Garros in a confident mood after some encouraging results on the European clay which have seen her ranking rise steadily from 61 at the start of the year to a career-high 39. She is currently ranked 40, her highest position going into a grand slam event.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee have been steadfast in their policy of athletes having to demonstrate an ability to reach the top 16 at the Olympics, something they're not convinced Erakovic has the ability to do yet.

She has a number of top scalps, and earlier this month beat world No 13 Sabine Lisicki, but often backs this up with a defeat against a player she is expected to beat. The nature of the Olympics draw means, however, that two wins would be enough to reach the last 16.

Much will depend on the draw she gets in Paris, with the women's field as open as ever. Being just outside the 32 seeds, Erakovic could face the likes of world No 1 Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova in the first round - the draw is made tonight.

A good run in Paris could convince the Olympic selectors to plump for Erakovic, with the ITF's cut-off for nominations on June 10, the day the tournament finishes.

Erakovic said she is leaving the Olympics talk to Tennis New Zealand.

"They submitted my application and I am just waiting to hear," she said.

The Croatian-born Kiwi has made it past the first round in Paris only once, in 2008 when she lost a tight two-setter to Jelena Jankovic in the second round. She followed that up by reaching the third round at Wimbledon, her best grand slam performance to date, and rose to a then career-high 49 in the rankings.

Injuries and a loss of form and confidence stalled her career over the next couple of seasons, but she has been injury free for 18 months and it has also helped that she has a fulltime travelling coach with her, Christian Zahalka.

Her defeat of Lisicki at the Rome Masters has been the highlight on clay for Erakovic, who also reached her first WTA tour semifinal on clay in Budapest last month.

"The last month has been pretty good, starting with the good tournament in Budapest," she said. "My body is chugging along with a few issues but nothing serious. I am hitting the ball well and look forward to the first round at Roland Garros.

"I love Roland Garros, it's a great tournament and I am very excited because I have been getting some good wins on clay."

She delayed her arrival into Paris after losing in the first round in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

"I left it late arriving to practice in Strasbourg because of the availability of courts. Also at this stage at Roland Garros there are a lot of people around. It's crazy and a bit of quiet time before the event starts is good.

"I don't believe in hype and treat it like just another event. It's just a matter of getting good rhythm and getting penetration when hitting through the shot. Little things make a difference."

She is playing doubles in Paris with Romanian Monica Niculescu but the signs aren't good for an extended run having lost early in both Madrid and Rome recently.

- APNZ

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