Knockouts expose Kiwi weakness

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The parlous state of New Zealand tennis was laid bare on the opening day of the Heineken Open, with all three Kiwi hopes outclassed in the qualifying rounds.

Artem Sitak, Michael Venus and French-based Sebastian Lavie were all ousted on Monday, leaving wildcard Rubin Statham the sole New Zealander in the main draw.

The only player to offer any resistance was Sitak, who took the second set off American Donald Young. Sitak, playing on the outside court, looked headed for a swift exit after dropping the first set 1-6, before rallying to win the second 6-3. That proved all the fight he had, as he fell 1-6 in the third.

The other two were bundled out in less than a hour after being dismissed in straight sets by their respective opponents. Lavie fell 6-2 6-2 to Spain’s Daniel Gimeno-Traver, ranked 80th in the world. Despite the pairing being an obvious mismatch, Lavie was clearly frustrated by his inability to compete with the Spaniard, his anger spilling over early in the second set when he kicked the ball on to the roof of the Robinson Stand after dropping his first service game of the set.

The next match on centre court was virtually identical to the first, with Venus also dispatched 6-2 6-2 by Slovakian Lukas Lacko.

While disappointing to see the local competition look so despairingly out of their depth, the results were to be expected when you consider the experience they were up against. Venus, who has an ATP ranking of 399, said he was realistic that he needed to be at his absolute best to challenge Lacko (90).

“I didn’t play well today. That’s why he’s a top 100 player – he took care of business pretty quickly,” said Venus.

“It’s disappointing because you don’t get to play [tournaments in New Zealand] much so when you do you want to play well. Maybe I had too many expectations on myself, maybe I should aim to go out there and enjoy myself and just have fun.”

Venus will still feature in the main draw of the doubles this week, pairing up with Statham as he prepares for next week’s Australian Open. Ranked 120 in doubles, he was awarded a wildcard to the year’s first grand slam.

The 26-year-old Kiwi said he was confident he and Statham could give the local crowd something to cheer about in the doubles. “I feel completely comfortable with these guys in the doubles … so I’m really looking forward to getting out there again.”

With the top four seeds handed a first-round bye, the day delivered little in the way of top-flight action.

Columbia’s Santiago Giraldo was the first player to win his way through to the second round, defeating Spain’s Albert Montanes, a player ranked seven spots above him, 6-1 7-6(3).

Top results

Qualifying finals:

Daniel Gimeno-Traver (Spain) bt Sebastian Lavie (NZ) 6-2 6-2

Lukas Lacko (Slovakia) bt Michael Venus (NZ) 6-2 6-2

Donald Young (US) bt Artem Sitak (NZ) 6-1 3-6 6-1

Bradley Klahn (US) bt Steve Johnson (US) 7-6(5) 7-6(3)

Round 1: Santiago Giraldo (Colombia) bt Albert Montanes (Spain) 6-1 7-6(3)

By DANA JOHANNSEN

NZH

PHOTO: New Zealand’s Michael Venus in action against Lukas Lacko on day one of the Heineken Open at the ASB Tennis Arena, Auckland – RICHARD ROBINSON