Kiwi No 1 Erakovic has plenty of bounce
It says a lot about Marina Erakovic that she looks back on 12 months where she achieved a career-high ranking and won twice in Grand Slams and shrugs it off as a "chug-chug year".
The ambition still clearly burns bright in the 24-year-old Aucklander as she looks once again to kick-start her year with something positive on her home courts in the ASB Classic (December 31-January 5).
With her world ranking sitting at 66, Erakovic could be excused for feeling pretty good about herself as 2013 rolls around. She remains the only New Zealander anywhere near the top echelons of the game and is closing in on US$1 million ($1.2m) in career prizemoney.
But as she sits and reflects on the year gone, and the one looming fast on her radar, there's a strong sense of determination about this focused New Zealander who spent the weeks before Christmas in Florida sharpening her game under coach Christian Zahalka.
"It was a bit of a chug-chug year," she says. "I had a few niggles here and there and wasn't able to play and practise as much as I wanted to. It was tough, but I managed to get through it and had a career-high ranking which was fantastic. Hopefully I can improve on that."
Erakovic admits to a degree of comfort about her game now, based on that thundering forehand and a serve that's getting better with each campaign.
"I feel like I know my game now and what I want to do. I want to build on it, become stronger, hit harder and bigger, and that comes with a lot of practice but a lot of matches as well.
"The forehand is always going to be the weapon, and building that serve up as well. You're always looking to move better and get to balls that you might not have before.
"It's just building on my game, maybe getting to the net a bit more, bringing that serve a bit bigger, and using that forehand still. It's simple stuff but just doing it better."
Erakovic's 2012 WTA season had its moments, especially when she reached the final in Memphis and semifinals at Budapest, and her ranking peaked at a career-high 39.
She also reached the third round twice, and second round eight times, including at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
There was also a contentious appearance at the Olympics (where she made a first-round exit) and two WTA doubles titles. She missed all of the year's post-US Open events as she dealt with a right hip injury which is now healed.
"Memphis was good, and I played some really nice tennis there," she says. "I was able to grind out some matches. And Budapest was also a highlight because it was on clay which is not something I've played a lot on. Doing well there was terrific and showed me I can perform well on any surface.
"The Olympics was a big highlight as well, being part of the team. It's a huge event, right up there with our Grand Slams. That was just as much of a highlight as anything else."
That was despite the uncertainty around her selection, which added a degree of angst she admits she could have done without.
"You know what, I got there in the end," she smiles.
"That's what matters. It was a terrific time and place to be and I'm glad to have had that experience."
At the suggestion she should feel proud to have reached the level she has, especially coming from a small country like New Zealand, Erakovic takes a moment or two to ponder her answer.
"I don't stop and think ‘gee, I'm proud of myself'," she says. "I feel like I've got a lot more to achieve and a lot more to go. But New Zealand is small and for me to be doing what I'm doing, it's pretty special. A lot of youngsters out there are struggling and tennis is tough to break through. It is something special that I'm from here and can be achieving this sort of success."
Of course, Erakovic would love to showcase her game before her home fans in Auckland and get things under way in style as she builds towards the year's first slam, in Melbourne.
But she also understands that with a powerful field headed by world No 4 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and including former No 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, that she'll need a bit of luck, as well as some quality tennis, to put together a run.
"It's a great field, and it will be a battle for everyone out there," says a player more than happy to keep "chugging" along in 2013.
- Sunday Star Times