Paris, May 31: Tennis is not as popular as rugby or cricket in New Zealand, and Marina Erakovic hopes to help change that.
The 92nd-ranked Erakovic became the first woman representing New Zealand to reach the third round of the French Open, beating 16th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 Thursday.
"I'm very proud to represent New Zealand whenever I'm at any event," said Erakovic, who next plays 17th-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States. "I love tennis and hopefully it will get some youngsters out there to play and enjoy the sport."
Erakovic's run at Roland Garros matches her best showing at any Grand Slam tournament: She reached the third round at Wimbledon in 2008.
On Thursday, Erakovic hit 38 winners to only 17 for Cibulkova, a semifinalist at the French Open in 2009.
Erakovic is the only player from New Zealand — man or woman — currently ranked in the top 100.
Tennis in New Zealand, a country of a little more than 4 million people, is "not as big as it is in Australia. We have been struggling a little bit with players," Erakovic said.
"In the '80s, we had quite a few good players, especially in the men's side. But nowadays, there's not a lot happening," she continued. "It's not to say that we don't have the talent. We have many, many recreational players, many clubs. It's a popular sport for people that just do it as a hobby."
But, Erakovic noted, "At the moment, professionally, it's just me."
As a teenager, Erakovic was coached by Chris Lewis, the runner-up at Wimbledon in 1983.
The path to success was not easy for her. Finance and traveling were obstacles to the development of her career.
She was born in Croatia and moved to New Zealand when she was 6, according to her website.
"Definitely when I was younger, it was a struggle, because we don't have a lot of money, obviously," said the 25-year-old Erakovic, who won her first singles title in February at Memphis. "We're a small country, and tennis is very expensive. For a lot of it, it was my parents, and then some private funding."