Tennis: Wildcards will show way as top four seeds take it easy

By Kris Shannon

New Zealand's Dan King-Turner. Photo / Greg Bowker
New Zealand's Dan King-Turner. Photo / Greg Bowker

With the big guns remaining holstered until tomorrow at the Auckland Open men's tennis tournament, all eyes today will be on a couple of wildcards.

The top four Heineken Open seeds, including three-time winner David Ferrer and comeback king Tommy Haas, were handed a first-round bye as the tournament made a low-key start in the summer sun yesterday.

Today will be much the same, though there are two names which will pique the interest of the crowd at Stanley St.

Local hopes will rest with New Zealand No2 Dan King-Turner, who will face Canadian qualifier Jesse Levine. King-Turner, ranked 378th in the world, will have his work cut out against Levine, a player who peaked at No69 in October before finishing the year just outside the top 100.

Attention will also turn to the crowd-pleasing Gael Monfils, who will begin his campaign against German qualifier Benjamin Becker.

The Frenchman reached a career-high ranking of No7 in 2011 but he has since dropped to No77. With four career titles, he will still be a player the seeds would want to avoid.

Three of the lower seeds began the tournament yesterday, with seventh seed Martin Klizan toppled 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 by Xavier Malisse and eighth seed Thomaz Bellucci winning 7-6, 6-2 against David Goffin.

The mid-afternoon match on Centre Court was the pick of the opening day's action, with two players whose careers are heading in contrasting directions barely able to be separated.

Slovakian Klizan enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2012 and was named the top newcomer on the ATP tour after finishing the year ranked 29th, while Malisse, of Belgium, peaked in the world rankings a decade ago.

But Malisse's experience told in a match that may have been decided by something as fickle as the Auckland wind.

With a considerable breeze swirling around Stanley St all day, tennis balls were acting in ways unexpected by tennis pros.

Possible winners were floating long and potential returns were scuppered by the ball dying in the players' backswing.

It was enough to invoke the occasional outburst of emotion from players throughout the day but none seemed as affected as Klizan.

The 23-year-old often cursed his fortunes throughout the match as his best-laid plans went awry, though Malisse struggled equally in a first set which the Belgian won in a tie-break.

Klizan fought back to take the second but, once Malisse went up a break in the third, Klizan began to play as if the world was against him.

Brazilian Bellucci had no such problems against the diminutive Goffin, though it didn't appear that way early. Goffin came within a whisker of winning the opening set but squandered a 5-2 lead.

Belgium's Olivier Rochus, the 2012 beaten finalist who is a wildcard this year, beat Spaniard Albert Ramos with a gritty 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 performance.

- APNZ

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