Tennis: Erakovic wants to add more firepower to her game

Marina Erakovic
Marina Erakovic
In a sport in which the player with the most weapons normally wins, Marina Erakovic knows she needs to add more to her arsenal.

The Kiwi No 1 tennis player has enjoyed a decent year. She climbed to a career-high ranking of 39, played in her second WTA final, won two WTA doubles events and banked US$315,228 in prize money.

But niggling injuries, her ongoing struggles at grand slam events - she has not gone past the second round since 2008 - and dreadful first-round defeat at the Olympics means she looks back on 2012 as only "alright".

Erakovic wants more than alright. She wants to be a top-20 player and, at 24, knows she needs to develop her game. She knows she needs to possess more than a good serve and forehand to jump from her present ranking of 66 and some of that might be in evidence at the ASB Classic, which starts in Auckland on Monday.

"The last couple of years I have been trying to hit the ball bigger, trying to move better, be fitter and make the forehand and serve bigger," she said.

"They are still things I am working on. I think next year I will probably look at taking the ball a little earlier and try to get into the net a little bit to finish those points off. It's just getting stronger and hitting bigger.

"I felt I was lagging behind in everything, from movement to especially the mental side. Nothing can prepare you for matches like matches. It's that simple; just going out there and playing the tennis.

"The realisation of needing to hit bigger was probably when I started working with [coach] Chris Zahalka. He was really keen on that. At first I didn't really understand, but I get it now. Even when you practice, you really want to be hitting it like you want to be hitting it in a match."

Erakovic normally prepares for the ASB Classic in Auckland but spent three weeks this month with Zahalka in Florida. A good run at Stanley St will see her surpass US$1 million in career earnings and become the first New Zealander since Brett Steven in the 1990s to achieve the feat.

She has banked US$989,318 since turning professional in 2006 and, with the ASB Classic offering US$235,000 in prizemoney, could pass the figure next week.

It would require a vast improvement on her past three outings in Auckland which saw her bundled out in the first round but she has the potential to at least match her semifinal appearance of 2008. She will also be among the favourites in the doubles considering she is teaming up with Brit Heather Watson and the pair have won both WTA tournaments they have played together.

The draw for both the singles and doubles will be made on Saturday, and Erakovic will hope to avoid some of the top seeds like world No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, Julia Goerges (18), Yanina Wickmayer (23), defending champion Zheng Jie (26) and even former world No 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova who has slipped to 72 after a series on troubling injuries.

She has the ability and experience to compete with players of that calibre and hopes she now has the firepower to do it more often.

"As every year passes, I enjoy it more and learn more," she said. "I even value it more as I get older."