All eyes on Kiwi brigade at Heineken Open

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 06/01/2014
Sebastian Lavie
Getty Images
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: Sebastian Lavie.

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New Zealand's men's tennis players struggle for a place in the spotlight but that all changes today at the ATP tennis tournament in Auckland.

As the top four seeds at the Open get first round byes, and other players are still flying in from around the world, tournament director Karl Budge has chosen to reward the Kiwi players who have posted excellent results in the qualifying tournament by putting two of them on centre court.

Sebastian Lavie, Michael Venus and Artem Sitak have all made it to the final round of qualifying, with the first two getting to play on television.

Lavie, who has a world ranking 2160, plays the 77th ranked Daniel Gimeno-Traver from Spain, so a win for the Kiwi would be one of the biggest tennis upsets.

In the second clash on centre court, New Zealand No 2 Michael Venus has a better chance against his opponent, Lukas Lacko from Slovakia.

Lacko is ranked 81, while Venus is at 401, but the Kiwi does have a big serve and if he gets it going well he could cause some trouble.

On court No 2 is the most interesting match involving a New Zealander with the country's national champion, Artem Sitak, playing America's Donald Young.

Sitak pulled off a stunning win yesterday, defeating Hiroki Kondo from Japan 6-3 6-4. Kondo is ranked 284, compared to Sitak at 564, but the Russian-born Sitak has been in form well above his ranking.

"I am really pleased with the result," Sitak said.

"It was difficult to play and the wind started picking up. It was tough to concentrate, but I think I did well. I came back from 3-1 down in both sets, started playing more aggressively and came into the net more."

Young is 96 in the world and has been as high as 38 back in February 2012. But Sitak says he'll be confident.

"We've played twice, one time was really close," he said.

"I was up a set and 3-2 and lost 6-4 in the third. The second time he beat me pretty easily, so I'm looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd, that should help me."

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