4 Jan 2011

Defending champ too strong for former world number one in Auckland

5:35 pm on 4 January 2011

Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer began the defence of her Auckland Classic tennis title with a hard-fought 6-3 6-7 6-1 first-round victory over former world number one Dinara Safina.

While the presence of grand slam title winners Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova has helped to effectively sell out the entire tournament, Wickmayer and Safina gave the capacity crowd the best value for money so far with a tough baseline battle filled with aggressive shotmaking.

The first set was a classic case of momentum shifting with Wickmayer going 3-love up before Safina fought back to level at 3-all.

However the 21-year-old Wickmayer then increased her intensity with aggressive shotmaking from both sides, to seal the set 6-3.

Neither were able to seize control in the second with the set going to a tiebreak, which Safina won easily 7-2.

The third set, however, turned into a rout with Wickmayer jumping out to a 3-love lead before Safina managed to hold serve, though she was merely delaying the inevitable as the Belgian won the next three games, sealing victory when Safina's running backhand sailed long.