Russians Set Ball Rolling

Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Sharapova made strong starts at the ASB Classic on Monday.

Published January 03, 2011 12:00

Russians Set Ball Rolling
Svetlana Kuznetsova

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - The presence of a trio of Russian stars has certainly had an impact on ticket sales at this week's ASB Classic - the day sessions have already sold out - and fans weren't disappointed on Monday when Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova delivered the goods, even if it meant one of their own fell by the wayside.

Kuznetsova, the third seed but coming of her first non-Top 10 season in seven years, opened main draw proceedings on center court against Kiwi wildcard Sacha Jones. While 20-year-old Jones held her own against the two-time Grand Slam winner in the first set, Kuznetsova's experience told, 64 62.

"The circumstances were very hard for me, I hadn't played a match for three months then I met a player who was motivated and had nothing to lose," said Kuznetsova after what was just her second match win since last year's US Open. "She had the home crowd, I had never played her before and had no idea what to expect.

"For almost the whole first set I had to watch and adjust to how she was playing," the current world No.27 added. "She was playing good and aggressive... but in the second set I was able to put more pressure on her."

Top seed Sharapova was also tested at times by Italian lucky loser Alberta Brianti, who earlier in the day had been beaten by 18-year-old Brit Heather Watson in the final round of qualifying.

Brianti gained her spot in the draw after fifth-seeded Anastasija Sevastova withdrew with illness, which saw Sharapova's intended opponent, Carla Suárez Navarro, promoted to the No.9 seeding and moved in the draw.

Brianti saved match points to break Sharapova when the Russian served for the match at 5-1 in the second set, and more still on her own serve, before the former world No.1 advanced with a 62 63 scoreline.

Other first round winners included Peng Shuai, who eased past Sweden's Johanna Larsson to set up a meeting with Kuznetsova; Anne Keothavong, who stormed home to beat Edina Gallovits in three; and Renata Voracova, who also went the distance against Lourdes Domínguez Lino. But in the evening session No.6 seed Kimiko Date-Krumm was outplayed by wildcard Kateryna Bondarenko, 64 63.

Sabine Lisicki, Florencia Molinero and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn won their final qualifying matches to join Watson in the main draw.

Tuesday's schedule is headlined by a clash between former world No.1 Dinara Safina and defending champion Yanina Wickmayer, the No.2 seed.

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