A Finnish dark horse?
Jan 11, 2006
By Alan Granville at the ASB Tennis Centre in Auckland
Jarkko Nieminen may not have been one of the names volleyed around as a possible Heineken Open champion, but the Finn is looking good as an outside bet for the Auckland crown.
The 24-year-old is ranked 29 in the world and a dark horse in the main draw.
In 2005 he had one of his most consistent years, reaching a personal best quarterfinal appearance at the US Open, as well as four semifinals.
Nieminen is known as a versatile player; he can mix up baseline with serve and volley and proved in round one that he will be a tough man to beat.
He defeated Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis 6-2 6-2 in under an hour on centre court to set up a clash with American Paul Goldstein.
With a likely semifinal match against David Ferrer, Nieminen is looking good for long run in Auckland.
"I can sometimes attack more or I can stay on the baseline like I was on Tuesday. My game style can be very different from day-to-day and that is one of my strengths - I can defend and I can attack," said the popular Finn.
Finland, much like New Zealand these days, does not have much of a tennis culture.
Both countries have fairly similar populations and while Nieminen flies high at 29 in the world, the next best placed Finn is at 433. New Zealand's top player Mark Nielsen is at 311
"The population in the countries is similar and they are both small countries in tennis terms. It helps when someone is doing well.
"2001 was my breakthrough year when I made the top 100 and the media started to follow me more. There are more children playing now in Finland I hear."
Nieminen said he did not feel lonely on the tour despite rarely meeting any other Finns on the circuit.
"This is my sixth year on the tour and I know almost every coach and every player so I don't feel lonely anymore. The Scandinavians immediately took me into their group when I started to play better. I don't feel lonely but I would like more people from Finland to play in the same tournaments."
He would like Finland to develop a tradition for the game like in neighbouring Sweden: "they have had a huge tennis culture for many years and have been able to develop players".
Despite the small population, Nieminen says he always sees support for him wherever he goes.
"Today there was some Finnish tennis fans. We don't have many Finnish people around the world but somehow they always find my matches.
"There are always one or two people out there watching me."
He will be hoping Auckland's Finnish population comes out en force on Wednesday when he faces Goldstein on Court 4.
TV ONE will be providing live coverage of the second round with streaming here on tvnz.co.nz from 11am.