Tennis: Erakovic out to lift bar at Classic

By Steve Deane

Organisers hopeful Kiwi can help bring crowds as she attempts to go beyond previous semifinal best.

New Zealand tennis player Maria Erakovic. Photo / Dean Purcell
New Zealand tennis player Maria Erakovic. Photo / Dean Purcell

Amid-level battler from Canada is the first assignment for Marina Erakovic as she launches her eighth assault on the New Zealand Open Women's title today.

Erakovic - who was in doubles action late last night - will be out to snap a three-year skid at her home event when she takes on qualifier Stephanie Dubois in the final match of the day session on centre court.

The pair have met twice - although the last time was over four years ago - claiming a win apiece.

Erakovic hasn't made it out of the first round at the ASB Classic since 2009, when she was dispatched by then world No 4 and eventual winner Elena Dementieva in the second round.

Her best campaign was 2008, when she made it to the semifinals before losing to Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai.

Over the intervening span her career has seesawed, with her ranking yo-yoing between a career-high 39 and well outside the top 100.

Still just 24, she is yet to win a WTA tournament but has reached two finals and enters this year's event with her ranking at a healthy 66 after a resurgent 2012.

Her form in Auckland has fluctuated, leading to an overall singles mark of 6-6 on centre court.

After yesterday's opening day was marked by one of the smallest Stanley Street crowds in recent memory, organisers will be hoping Erakovic can spark some local interest with a strong run.

Her task may have become a little easier with yesterday's departure of former world No 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova via an opening round defeat to Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, but Erakovic still has some significant obstacles in front of her.

Defending champion Zheng Jie - a potential second-round opponent - was in singles action last night against American Jamie Hampton, after this edition had gone to print.

Erakovic's doubles partner, British No 1 Heather Watson, is also in the same section of the draw.

The 2011 champion, Hungarian Greta Arn, will be back on centre court today against top seed Agnieszka Radwanska after picking up the final main draw berth thanks to a spot of good fortune.

Arn lost her final round qualifying match to Thai player Nudnida Laungnam, but the withdrawal through injury of Frenchwoman Kristini Mladenovic handed Arn a lifeline when hers was the lucky name drawn at random from the four final-round qualifying losers.

Auckland's blustery weather was a major factor as teenaged Canadian wildcard Eugenie Bouchard literally blew out of the tournament yesterday.

Bouchard was defeated in straight sets by Russian veteran Elena Vesnina.

Both players struggled mightily on serve, each recording just one hold in the opening 10 games of the first set. The wind affected the ball toss so markedly that at one point Bouchard came up with a clean miss when attempting to serve, and she never recovered her composure.

American prospect Christina McHale was the first seeded player to exit, losing in straight sets to Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier on an outside court.

1st round results

Singles
Parmentier (FRA) def 7 McHale (USA) 6-4 6-1
Vesnina (RUS) def Bouchard (CAN) 7-5 6-3
Daniilidou (GRE) def Vandeweghe (USA) 1-6 7-6 6-4
Bertens (NED) def Kuznetsova (RUS) 6-7 6-2 7-5
Flipkens (BEL) def Voskoboeva (KAZ) 6-1 6-7 7-5
Larsson (SWE) def Doi (JPN) 4-6 6-3 6-2
Wickmayer (BEL) def Rybarikova (SVK) 7-6 6-2
Halep (ROU) def Rus (NED) 4-6 6-3 6-1

Order of play

Centre Court

12pm: Kuznetsova/ Wickmayer (RUS/ BEL) v Black/ Rodionova (ZIM/ AUS)
Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino (ESP) v 6 Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ)
1 Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) v Greta Arn (HUN)
Stephanie Dubois (CAN) v Marina Erakovic (NZL)
Not before 7pm
Anastasija Sevastova (LAT) v 2 Julia Goerges (GER)
Guthrie/ Hayman (NZL) v Beygelzimer / Glushko (UKR/ ISR)

Court 4

12pm
Heather Watson (GBR) v 5 Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
Nudnida Luangnam (THA) v Romina OPRANDI (SUI)
8 Mona Barthel (GER) v Grace Min (USA)
Halep / Rus (ROU/ NED) v 3 Dekmeijere/ Moulton-Levy (LAT/ USA)

Court 2

12pm
Falconi / Sanchez (USA) v Buyukakcay/ Doi (TUR/ JPN)
Flipkens/ Larsson (BEL/ SWE) v Coin/ Pelletier (FRA/ CAN).

- NZ Herald

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