Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer began the defence of her Auckland Classic title with a enthralling, hard-fought 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 first-round victory over former world number one Dinara Safina on Tuesday.
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.
"It was tough, I thought she played really well," Wickmayer told reporters after the two hour, 10 minute match.
"I thought we both played a good level of tennis so it was nice match to start off the year, a tough one," she added.
Wickmayer had romped to a 3-0 lead in the first set and it looked as if Safina's first match on the new Plexicushion blue courts in Auckland would be over in less than an hour.
The Russian, however, showed some of the grit that helped propel her to the top of the world rankings in 2009 and while Wickmayer was keeping her pinned deep behind the baseline Safina still managed to win the next three games and draw level.
The 21-year-old Belgian then increased her intensity with aggressive shotmaking from both sides, and barely gave Safina a point over the next three games to seal the set 6-3.
Neither were able to seize control in the second set with Safina grabbing a 2-0 lead before Wickmayer fought back before they were forced into a tiebreak, which Safina won easily 7-2.
"At the end of the second set we were just playing our best," Wickmayer said.
"She played really well and I can't say I lost the second set because I played bad, she just really took over," she added.
The third set, however, turned into a rout with Wickmayer jumping out to a 3-0 lead that she capitalised on and sealed victory when Safina's running backhand sailed long."In the third set I thought I would need to play more aggressive... (because) the third set was a 50-50 chance for both of us and the start was important (because) whoever (made) a good start would finish it."