Tennis: Eravkovic making progress again

Marina Erakovic
Marina Erakovic
Marina Erakovic is making progress again.

After three years of first round exits at her hometown WTA event, Erakovic will be back out on court today (Wed) in the second round of the ASB Classic. She's there courtesy of a routine 6-2 6-1 victory over Canadian battler Stephanie Dubois at Stanley Street yesterday.

That tangible step forward, though, is merely a consequence of the improvements the 24-year-old has made to her game. Her forehand exhibited new-found pop, her second serve was less of a liability, she moved around the court more nimbly and attacked her opponent relentlessly.

"I've been trying to hit bigger, especially on the forehand side," Erakovic said.

"That's what I want to do; I want to run around and hit a big forehand and dominate."

Consistently hitting the cover off the ball is not without risk, however the rewards could be significant if Erakovic can get it right often enough.

"All of us can rip it. Ripping it at crucial stages and making it is the difference.

"I'm at a level now where I definitely can hit it big, but I can control it. I definitely can hit it bigger than I did [yesterday]."

Erakovic was particularly brutal on return, not allowing her journeywoman opponent the satisfaction of a single service hold. It was foot on the throat stuff from a player who hasn't always brought her A-game to Auckland.

Two years ago a statuesque Erakovic was blown off centre court by the solid but not exactly spectacular Elena Vesnina without scuffing the soles of her sneakers. She was still recovering from injury back then but, even so, it was a performance that suggested a struggle against mediocrity lay ahead.

It seemed she would more often be on the receiving end of the type of hidings she dished out yesterday. Rather than beating up on the Dubois of the tennis world, Erakovic appeared odds-on to become one of them.

But she's better than that - has always believed she's better than that. And yesterday she proved it.

She was far from perfect, dropping the opening game of each set on serve, but once she found her rhythm it was one-way traffic. Dubois couldn't cope with the pressure and unraveled at a pace that far out-stripped her patter-tennis second serve.

Today's assignment - a first meeting with American Jamie Hampton - will be much tougher. Hampton's first round demolition of defending champion Zheng Jie was impressive. But if Erakovic wants to take her game to the next level, the one inhabited by the big girls of the top 20, it's the type of examination she must pass on a regular basis.

With seeded players Zheng and illness-affected Sorana Cirstea, and class act Svetlana Kuznetsova, all bombing out in the first round, the tournament has opened up nicely for Erakovic.

If she can pass through doors that will be blocked by Hampton and then either Kiki Bertens or Heather Watson - all players ranked within spitting distance of Erakovic's 66 - a semifinal date with world No4 Agnieszka Radwanska looms.

That contest would provide a real measure of just how far this country's best tennis player has progressed.

- By Steve Deane of the NZ Herald

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