Marina Erakovic is more relaxed in Melbourne

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 14/01/2014
Marina Erakovic
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
NZ'S BEST: Marina Erakovic in action.

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If playing in Auckland is where Marina Erakovic feels the pressure the most, then being at the Australian Open must come second.

The ASB Classic hasn't been much of an enjoyable experience for the New Zealand No 1 in recent years and after she lost in the first round to Lauren Davis a couple of weeks ago she admitted she struggles with being in the spotlight and high expectations she's under at the first tournament of the year.

Today, she'll play the 21st seed in Melbourne, Sorana Cirstea and again she'll have a big crowd out to see her play.

It has become a regular feature for her to pack out one of the outside courts at the Australian Open as expat Kiwis and those who've made the trip over the Tasman take a break from seeing the big stars at the grand slam to support the New Zealand No 1.

But unlike at the ASB Classic, where she admits she buckles under that pressure, in Melbourne she says she enjoys it.

"I really like Melbourne, it's a great grand slam and I have quite a few friends here," Erakovic said.

"But it's not the same as in Auckland for me, it's a different country, a different kind of support.

"I really enjoy both but I do feel a little easier here, there is definitely less pressure."

Cirstea is 21 in the world rankings and Erakovic has dropped down to 52 and because of that the Romanian will start as favourite. But the form guide gives little away as they're both going through losing streaks.

Neither player has won a match this year, but Cirstea has been beaten by lower ranked players than Erakovic.

She lost to qualifiers outside the top 100 in Auckland and Sydney and she also went out in the first round in her last two tournaments of 2013, so she's in a real form slump.

While Erakovic is also still searching for her first win of the year, she believes the results will come.

"I definitely feel that I'm on the right track," she said. "I had a good off-season, I'm faster and it's a matter of time.

"I haven't played Sorana in a long time, the last time was in Morocco on clay and I lost in a three set match," she added, referring to the 2-6 6-3 6-2 defeat she suffered in Fes in 2008.

"Sorana is a good ball striker, she hits a big ball, she's a powerful, aggressive player.

"So I've really got to be quick, I've got to dictate myself and move the ball around."

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Meanwhile, the draw for the doubles have been done, with Erakovic and her Chinese parter, Zheng Jie seeded 10th and in the first round they will play the French pairing of Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia.

In Hobart last week Erakovic and Jie were the top seeds, but lost in the first round to Monica Niculescu, from Romania, and her Czech partner, Klara Zakopalova.

"Niculescu and Ziropova won a tournament in China the week before, so they were already going strong and it was our first time," Erakovic said.

"We were very close and it's always tough when you play your first match, but I definitely feel she's a very smart player, knows what she's doing on the court and is very keen on her doubles, so I think it will be good."

New Zealand's Michael Venus and his Indian partner Yuki Bhambri will play the Spanish duo of Roberto Bautista Agut and Daniel Gimeno-Traver in the first round of the men's doubles.

- Fairfax Media

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