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kittyking
Dec 31st, 2006, 09:39 PM
So who will steal the hearts of the Auckland tennis supporters and walk away with the ASB Classic crown in 2007?

Four top 20 players, a host of young up-and-comers and a couple of Kiwis in the main draw mean the tournament is likely to be one of the best ever.

TV ONE and tvnz.co.nz will be showing coverage from the ASB Tennis Centre all week.

For the first time ever tvnz.co.nz will also be showing you the evening games, so when TV ONE coverage ends, you will still be able to catch all the action right here.

So who are the main rivals for the 2007 crown? Well tvnz.co.nz has lined up the suspects and takes a gander at some of the possible outsiders to be crowned queen of New Zealand tennis.

Main contenders


Marion Bartoli - the defending champion, but her victory in 2006 was hardly unexpected. The Frenchwoman, seeded three this time around, has the best record at the ASB Tennis Centre over the last three years.

The facts speak for themselves - she has played 13 matches and lost just the two, going down in the semis in 2004 and 2005 before taking the main prize in 2006.

One thing is for sure, there is never a dull moment when Bartoli takes to the court; expect stinging shots, temper tantrums, some crying and lots of long looks to her father but most of all a steely determination to defend her Auckland crown.

Jelena Jankovic - speaking of moody and sometimes temperamental, Auckland welcomes back Ms. Jankovic for her second trip to New Zealand.

Top seed this year, Jankovic finally made good on all that promise with an unexpected, but well deserved run to the US Open semi-finals. She took out three top 10 seeds along the way (Nicole Vaidisova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva) before coming unstuck against Justine Henin-Hardenne.

2005 was her one appearance in Auckland, where she went down in three sets to Bartoli in the quarter-finals at the MoreFM Tennis Park in Albany (played there due to terrible weather).

Anastasia Myskina - It's not too often that tennis lovers in Auckland get to witness an actual Grand Slam singles winner, but that is what is in store thanks to the arrival of Myskina.

In all the hullabaloo of Maria Sharapova and the start of the Russian revolution of women's tennis, it has often been forgotten that Myskina was the first woman from her country to win a major at Roland Garros in 2004.

A poor run of form saw her world ranking suffer but she looks like she is back on the upper. A natural clay courter, her devastating backhand should see her progress to the latter stages of the ASB Classic.

Daniela Hantuchova - It's not often that a tennis player is mentioned in the same breath as Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, but that is exactly where Hantuchova finds herself.

You see she is one of only four women ever to win a career Grand Slam of mixed doubles crowns with victories at Wimbledon (2001), the Australian Open (2002), Roland Garros and the US Open (2005).

While she may garner attention off the court due to her model-type looks, it can sometimes be forgotten that the Slovak can play a bit as well. After all she has made it to number five in the world.

Vera Zvonareva - The 2006 ASB Classic runner-up makes her return to Auckland looking to go one better.

The Russian 22-year-old played some awesome tennis during her run to the final taking out fourth seed Maria Kirilenko and second seed Hantuchova for the loss of just six games before crumbling against Bartoli in the final.

An inconsistent season followed with two singles titles under her belt in Birmingham and Cincinnati but defeat in the first round in three Grand Slams.

Outsiders

So who else is a possibility to take the top prize in women's tennis in New Zealand?

Eleni Daniilidou is the seventh seed and knows how to win in Auckland; after all she claimed the crown in 2003 and 2004. But let's just say her form since then has been, emm, consistent as well - two first round losses in 2005 and 2006.

Romina Oprandi is not perhaps a name many will recognise but she looks like a star of the future. The Swiss-born youngster shot up over 200 places in the world rankings in 2006 to inside the top 50, making her one of the names to watch in 2007. Twelve singles titles to her name on the lower-grade ITF women's circuit shows she can win.

Veteran of 16 years on the circuit Paola Suarez iscalling it quits this year andshould not be discounted. She made the final in 2001 and semis in 2004. Note to any player who defeats her, start looking at having a long stay in Auckland - on all her five previous trips, she has eventually lost to either the winner or this year, to the beaten finalist.

The French can also look to three other players with a degree of pedigree between them - Nathalie Dechy, Emilie Loit and Camille Pin will all challenge for "le crown".

And what of the local Kiwi talent taking on some of the world's best?

A lot has been written about Marina Erakovic and finally this year she came good on some of that promise. She reached a career high 160 and won three tournaments. She will guarantee a packed crowd whenever she plays in Auckland. Leanne Baker has also seen a big improvement, jumping to a career high ranking of 272. Sadly a back injury has robbed Sacha Jones of a chance to play in her first main WTA event.

Source: ONE Sport