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Slovakian Martin Klizan, who earlier this month reached a career-high ranking of 29 and won the ATP newcomer of the year award, confirmed yesterday he will kick off his year in Auckland. The 23-year-old's biggest scalp in 2012 was a US Open victory over world No8
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga while, in September, he won his first ATP title in St Petersburg, Russia.
Klizan's win there was the first title for a Slovakian since long time Auckland favourite Dominik Hrbaty collected the second of his two Heineken Open crowns in 2004.
Auckland has long enjoyed a reputation of attracting young talent that goes on to great things. Swedish star Bjorn Borg played here at the beginning of his career - back then he had the haircut and the headband but a lot less hype. Roger Federer appeared at the Heineken Open in 2000, though he was unfortunately consigned to a backcourt and the Auckland tournament remains the only event on the ATP tour that he has not won a match at.
A 17-year-old Rafa Nadal came here in 2004 and reached his first ATP final, thrilling fans with his relentless energy while delighting reporters with his attempts to hablar ingles.
Heineken Open tournament director Karl Budge said it was a great opportunity to see a future star.
"Martin has gone from 120 in the world at this time last year to crack the top 30", says Budge. "That shows the rocket-like trajectory he's on."
The 1.90m Klizan, who lists clay as his favourite surface but is adept on hardcourt, could be a dark horse for a run late into the week.
- By Michael Burgess