Tennis: Erakovic set to join tennis millionaires

By Michael Brown

Marina Erakovic in action. Photo / Dean Purcell
Marina Erakovic in action. Photo / Dean Purcell

Marina Erakovic is set to become the first US$1 million tennis player from New Zealand since Brett Steven in the mid-1990s.

Erakovic has banked US$989,318 ($1.2 million) since turning professional in 2006 and could pass the US$1 million mark at her home tournament, the ASB Classic, starting on New Year's Eve.

It would require a decent run in the singles - the winner collects US$40,000 and a beaten semifinalist about US$11,000 - but she will have two bites at it considering she will team up with Briton Heather Watson in the doubles (the winning combination receive US$11,750). The pair have played two WTA tournaments together and won both.

Passing the mark doesn't mean Erakovic is rolling in cash. Tennis is an expensive business and it's estimated it costs about $200,000 to play on the tour each year once travel expenses and a coach are factored in.

"I wish I had $1 million," Erakovic laughed. "I'm not a money-orientated person but it's definitely an achievement.

"If I keep going and working hard, hopefully I can have a nice little retirement bundle.

"The $1 million mark, it's great, but I definitely don't have enough now to settle down. I have enough to cover my expenses next year and a little bit on the side to live off for a year or two if I wanted to. We are not talking about big money here."

Erakovic has had a good year, jumping to a career-high ranking of 39 in May, playing in her second WTA final, winning two WTA doubles events and banking US$315,228 in prize money.

But it was also littered with disappointments. She was hampered by a handful of niggly injuries, continued to struggle at Grand Slam events - she has not gone past the second round since 2008 - and was bundled out of the Olympics in the first round after an embarrassing 6-2, 6-1 defeat to Aleksandra Wozniak.

It's why she looks back on the year with mixed emotions.

"People tell me what a great year I had," she said. "I go, 'Really? It was all right'. I felt as though it didn't run as smoothly as I wanted. I had a few hiccups, a few injuries here and there.

"But if that still gets me into the Grand Slams and I can improve, then I can do a lot better."

Her ranking remained steady, settling in at 67 after starting the year at 61.

It means she gains direct entry to the ASB Classic for the second time rather than relying on a wildcard and she has the potential to go deep into the tournament.

The field is headed by world No4 Agnieszka Radwanska and features six players inside the world's top 30, including Julia Goerges (No18), Yanina Wickmayer (23) and defending champion Zheng Jie (26).

The return of Zheng is significant. There were fears the ASB Classic would suffer from the emergence of the US$500,000 Shenzhen tournament in China in the same week as Auckland along with the US$1 million event in Brisbane.

But the cutoff for direct entries is 78 - this year it was 71 - putting the quality of the field second internationally for tournaments at the US$235,000 level.

There are three former world No2s (Radwanska, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva), a two-time Grand Slam winner (Kuznetsova) and two former ASB Classic champions (Wickmayer and Zheng).

- APNZ

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