Statham gets wildcard for Auckland tournament

DAVID LONG
Last updated 11:57 04/01/2014

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Tennis

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And the wildcard goes to...... Rubin Statham.

Rarely has there been such drama around who gets the final golden ticket into the Heineken Open in Auckland, but when Andy Murray bombed out in the second round to Florian Mayer in Doha, all of a sudden there was the potential that last year's Wimbledon champion could come to Auckland.

Tournament director Karl Budge got in touch with Murray agent on Thursday to see if he was interested in coming over and the option wasn't ruled out by his team.

However overnight Budge was informed that Murray wouldn't be taking up the invitation, so he informed the New Zealand No 1 that the wildcard was his.

While there will disappointment in some quarters that Murray isn't coming, Statham deserves to get it in his place.

His ranking is up to 290 and 2013 was a career best year for him. However, he admits he faces the same issues as Marina Erakovic does in that all the pressure goes on him at just one tournament at the beginning of the year.

All of the Futures tournaments have been dropped by Tennis NZ, so there is nothing else he can play in in this country other than this tournament.

"It is quite a strange situation, we have such a huge event for New Zealand," Statham said.

"It is the biggest international sporting event in New Zealand and then nothing for the rest of the year.

"Tennis is a well played sport here, so the passion is there and that's why these two events go off for the two weeks, but then it goes dry for the rest of the year.

"A player from America might play a tournament there and if he loses, there are another 15-20 tournaments in his country," he added.

"But if I don't perform here that's it for the year, so it's one shot.

"I didn't play a professional singles match in New Zealand last year and I'm the No 1 player in the country, that's a pretty scary stat."

But one player from America who'll be here next week is the 21-year-old Jack Sock, who was given a main draw wildcard a few weeks ago.

Sock is the latest next big hope from America, following on from Donald Young and Ryan Harrisson, who both failed to live up to their hype.

The average age of a top 100 player is 27, so there is time for Sock, the world No 102 to breakthrough, but he says he's hungry to get there now.

"I want to get up there as soon as possible and stay there," he said. 

"There is definitely a trend now of a lot of older guys doing well and the average age at the top now is older.

"But I think I can move my way up and be up there sooner than later."

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One claim to fame he has though is that he's already won a Grand Slam, albeit the mixed doubles at the US Open with Melanie Oudin in 2011.

"It was a surreal moment for me in my career," he said. 

"I was 18 when it happened and both Melanie and I would say it was pretty unexpected.

"But there was an unreal feeling playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium at night at the end of the tournament, it's definitely pretty cool."

- Fairfax Media

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