New era for New Zealand tennis
By David Long
The giving of a wildcard spot to Eden Marama for the ASB Classic marks the start of a new era in women's tennis for New Zealand.
Shelly Stephens, Ilke Gers and Leanne Baker all have higher world rankings than Marama, but after a number of seasons where the three of them have failed to significantly move up the rankings, tournament director Richard Palmer has decided to look to the future and pick the highly promising Marama as the first wildcard spot to be announced.
"I think we've got to seriously look at the next generation," Palmer told nzoom.com. "It is a signal in that sense. We've only announced one and there's still another one and all the qualifying ones as well.
"I think it's time to introduce some new blood into that main draw and she's the obvious candidate because of what she's done this year. So it's time for one of the younger brigade to have a go."
There is one other wildcard spot for the main draw of the ASB Classic and four in the qualifying tournament that takes place a couple of days before the main competition, but the decision to announce Marama as a wildcard entrant so early is just reward for her after an excellent year.
"She's actually first New Zealand woman since 1999 to win a title and she actually won two of them this year and was in two other semis," Palmer said. "They were only $US10,000 events but she's actually gone in there and won it.
"She's started on the women's circuit about five months ago and has already got her ranking to about 500 and with her sister she's won four doubles titles, so she's actually someone who has got a winning habit."
Palmer considered Eden Marama and her elder sister, Paula, for wildcard spots this year but they chose to stay in their Paris base during the time of the tournament.
But next year Marama's participation will be watched with a great deal of interest, as she has been one of the most talked about figures on the New Zealand tennis circuit for a while.
Despite this, not many people have actually seen her play, but Palmer is one of those and he was very impressed with what he saw.
"I saw her at the US Open when I was doing my usual recruiting and she played the 11th seed who was very good. She lost, but showed glimpses of what she was capable of.
"She's got a very big serve and she also hits the ball very hard, so she's an aggressive player."
As for the other wildcard spots, Palmer said no date has been set for further announcements.
"We haven't put a time frame on it, but it will be closer to the tournament because there are other things still to be taken into consideration.
"We still look at the local events although we're not going to decide wildcards solely on local events," he continued. "We've been looking at tournaments that these girls have been in for the last six to eight months.
"You've got to look at the whole mix of what these people have done and you also have to look to the future to a certain extent.
"Also you've got to look at public appeal and media appeal.
"At qualifying this year we are probably going to have 10 to a dozen players in the top 100 and you'll have to be in the top 150 to even get into it, so there's actually none of our girls on their rankings within sight of it.