Safina Fights, But Falls
Published January 04, 2011 12:00
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - It was a match-up worthy of a final, but unfortunately for former No.1 Dinara Safina, her ASB Classic opener was against a defending champion in no mood to loosen her grip on the trophy. Yanina Wickmayer, back as the No.2 seed, dropped the second set in a tie-break before dismissing the Russian, 63 67(2) 61.
World No.23 Wickmayer came out swinging to take the first set, and had her chances to close it out in the second, however 63rd-ranked Safina dug deep to force a tie-break.
But although little separated the pair on first serve - Safina hit her mark 71 percent of the time, to Wickmayer's 74 percent - the Belgian's superior returning soon restored her momentum. The 21-year-old broke Safina in the second game of the decider, and after struggling to hold her own serve in the sixth, fatally snapped the Russian's resistance with another break.
Afterwards, a compassionate Wickmayer said she was "sad" to have beaten Safina, whose career has been sideswiped by a back injury.
"She deserves to come back and get back her top ranking," the Belgian said. "It was tough, I thought she played well. I thought we both played a good level of tennis, so it was a nice match to start off the year - a tough one."
Next up for Wickmayer is another big-hitter, Sabine Lisicki, who breezed past fellow qualifier Argentine Florencia Molinero, 61 63. In the day's other all-qualifier encounter, British teenager Heather Watson routed Thai teenager Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, 61 61.
Other first round winners included No.7 seed Elena Vesnina, runner-up here two years ago to Elena Dementieva, who beat local wildcard Marina Erakovic, 62 62. Having avoided Maria Sharapova with Monday's draw reshuffle, Carla Suárez Navarro held off Romina Oprandi in a second set tie-break; Greta Arn dropped just one game against Zuzana Ondraskova; and eighth seed Sofia Arvidsson was also little troubled by Tamira Paszek.
After a blistering start, Romanian teen Simona Halep held off Ayumi Morita, 60 76(3), while Alizé Cornet stormed home with a love set decider against Sandra Zahlavova.