AUCKLAND, New Zealand - It may not have ended with a win but two-time Grand Slam champion and former World No.2 Svetlana Kuznetsova made a welcome return to the courts on Monday afternoon, pushing Kiki Bertens to a tight three-setter before falling in the first round of the ASB Classic.
The 2012 season was a tough one for Kuznetsova, starting in the Top 20 but missing all post-Wimbledon events with a knee injury - including the US Open - and subsequently finishing No.72.
Kuznetsova gave Bertens all she could handle - going up a set and a break, and coming within two games of victory at 5-all third set - but finally Bertens won in two hours and 33 minutes, 67(5) 62 75.
"It was very tough conditions today and definitely hard to play my best tennis, but I fought as hard as I could in the first and third sets, and in the end she was better," Kuznetsova said. "I just have to play more matches now. I'm still just trying to get used to playing matches and competing again.
"Things didn't go my way and it was frustrating, but life goes on and I have to keep my head up."
Bertens was very happy with the win. "I've had wins over higher-ranked players, but I've never beaten a two-time Grand Slam champion before, so it's great," she said. "I think I played a really good first set but made a lot of mistakes - from the second set on I kept those down and played a little better.
"The 2012 season was great for me and this is a great way to start 2013."
Three seeds took the courts on Day 1 of the event but only one of them survived their first round opponent, that being No.3 seed Yanina Wickmayer, a 76(3) 62 winner over Magdalena Rybarikova. No.4 seed and defending champion Zheng Jie won the first three games but then lost 13 of the next 16 to fall to Jamie Hampton, 75 61, while No.7 seed Christina McHale fell to Pauline Parmentier, 64 61.
Hampton talked about the very windy conditions and shaking off the off-season rust. "I train in Florida and it's pretty windy down there, so it didn't bother me too much," she commented. "Everyone, including myself, is trying to shake off the rust from the off-season too. These are the first matches of the new season. I was probably a little nervous, but once I settled, it was a bit of a different match."
Other first round winners were Simona Halep, Kirsten Flipkens, Johanna Larsson, Elena Vesnina and Eleni Daniilidou - Daniilidou won a nail-biter against fellow wildcard Coco Vandeweghe, fighting off two match points down 61 65 and outlasting the young American in three sets, 16 76(5) 64.
"This is a very special tournament for me," said Daniilidou, who has won two of her five WTA titles here, in 2003 and 2004. "Things weren't going very well for me in the first set and it was very windy, but I kept fighting - she's so aggressive that sometimes I didn't even see the ball, but I just kept going."