Marina Erakovic loses in second round as seeds tumble at ASB Classic
Marina Erakovic's fleeting campaign to fly the Kiwi flag at her home tournament has faulted at the second hurdle.
After a gutsy first round victory over Yulia Putintseva, the New Zealand No 1 could not continue her comeback, going down 7-6, 6-3 in one hour 45 minutes to Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru to seal a fifth second round exit in Auckland.
Erakovic showed fight in her return from a knee injury, having not played since the US Open last September.
But a lack of match play and fitness play probably knocked her confidence.
Elsewhere, the top seeds continued to tumble, clearing the road for a new ASB Classic women's champion.
Tenacious underdogs have been the order of the week on Stanley Street, with two-time grand slam champion and fourth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova following the upset script on Wednesday.
With defending champion Venus Williams and world No 16 Ana Ivanovic - who pulled out of the doubles with apparent illness - already gone, the top half of the draw is wide open.
Late in the day, German Julia Goerges ejected seventh seed Barbora Strycova in straight sets, leaving only two seeded players, both of whom are both in the bottom of the draw.
* Naomi Broady calls for opponent to be disqualified after racket hits ball boy
* Svetlana Kuznetsova latest seed to be dumped out of ASB Classic
* Ivanovic pulls out of doubles
* Another seed out of ASB Classic
* Live: ASB Classic second round
* Ferrer loss opens way for Classic
No-one left in the field has claimed the Auckland silverware before, either.
Of the remaining contenders, the winner of Thursday's quarterfinal between Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens and Austrian Tamira Paszek appears well placed to mount a challenge for the title.
Both players emerged through qualifying, playing five singles matches in five days to build steady, valuable rhythm other big names have struggled to replicate in their first tournament of the season.
Flipkens, the experienced 2013 Wimbledon and 2014 ASB Classic semifinalist, fought back in a three set battle with American Irina Falconi (6-1, 4-6, 6-2) to confirm her status as a dark horse.
"At the beginning of the year there are always surprises, every year," she said. "Everyone has been practising so no-one has match rhythm at all. That really makes a big difference.
"Anything could happen from here. Paszek will be a tough opponent. She beat Kuznetsova quite easy. I saw a little bit of the match and she was on fire."
Indeed, Paszek will be no walkover. She left two grand slam winners - 2009 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and Kuznetsova - in her wake and is confident of emulating the form which saw her reach the semifinals here in 2008.
"I had Christmas Eve dinner at the tournament director's house and they brought me a little Christmas tree so that was really nice," the 25-year-old recalled of her best year in Auckland. "I fell in love with the tournament, the people and the country so I've tried to come back all the years I was healthy."
Clearly, the quality of opponents doesn't faze the world No 172, who reached a career-high 26 in 2013.
"It gives me a lot of confidence knowing I've beaten two such great players with such great experience. I'm ready for the next round."
Powerful American fifth seed Sloane Stephens, who recovered from losing the first set to dispatch German Carina Witthoeft 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, may have to collide with glamour girl Caroline Wozniacki, the 2014 Classic runner up.
Russian youngster Daria Kasatkina, the giant killer who took down Williams in the first round, couldn't back up those efforts, losing 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 to Japan's Nao Hibino.
But Ivanovic's destroyer, Britain's Naomi Broady, eventually took down Latvian wild card Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6, 7-5.
Controversy hit late in that match when Ostapenko threw her racket and it seemed to hit a ball boy. Broady called for Ostapenko to be disqualified, as the rules permit, but after consultation with officials, the chair umpire allowed the match to continue.
Tantrums and tears continued as the pair exchanged words after the match but the incident's importance deflated with Broady pushing through for victory.
"It was quite clear that she threw her racket and it hit a ball kid, which should be straight disqualified," Broady said. "The chair umpire said Jelena said to him that it slipped from her hand, so he said it was just a code violation or something.
"But on the replay it's quite clear that it didn't slip from her hand, but that's tennis, you go by what the chair umpire says and get on with the match and I managed to keep myself together quite well."
[Q] Tamira Paszek [AUT] bt  Svetlana Kuznetsova [RUS] 6-2, 6-3
 Sloane Stephens [USA] bt Carina Witthoeft [GER] 3-6, 6-3, 6-1
Nao Hibino [JAP] bt Daria Kasatkina [RUS] 7-5, 2-6, 7-5
Naomi Broady [GBR] bt [WC ]Jelena Ostapenko [LAT] 6-4, 7-6, 7-5.
[Q] Kirsten Flipkens [BEL] bt Irina Falconi [USA] 6-1, 4-6, 6-2
Julia Goerges [GER] bt  Barbora Strycova [CZE] 6-4, 7-6
Alexandra Dulgheru [ROU] bt [WC] Marina Erakovic [NZL] 7-6, 6-3