Auckland | Fernandez, Marino, Zhu and Venus Williams advance

Action got underway on Monday at the ASB Classic, the WTA 250 tournament in Auckland, with an impressive win by 3rd-seeded Leylah Fernandez, who crushed the hopes of 15-year Brenda Fruhvirtova, while both Rebecca Marino, Zhu Lin and Venus Williams also advanced.

This is one of my favourite places to come, I was so excited that I made it here. I’m happy to get a win today against a great opponent. Venus Williams

Fernandez, the 20-year old Canadian, did not allow the young talented Czech a look-in during their hour-long, 1st-round encounter, which she won 6-1 6-1 with a display of the sort of dominance that took her to the final of the US Open in 2021.

Fruhvirtova, who was given a wild-card to compete at the ASB Classic, is regarded as one of the most promising juniors in the world and, last year, won 5 ITF tournaments in a row, but she proved no match for Fernandez on this day and, although the young Czech pulled off a number of good points, she was unable to string enough together to offer up much resistance.

In round 2, Fernandez will face Austria’s Julia Grabher, who took out Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, 5-7 6-1 6-2, in just short of 2 hours.

In the first match of the day, China’s Zhu Lin caused the first big upset of the tournament, saving a match point to knock out the No 6 seed Madison Brengle from the USA, 4-6 7-6 6-4, in a rain-interrupted match that took 3 hours 45 minutes of playing time to complete.

Zhu, who is ranked 84 in the world, outlasted the 32-year old American by being the more aggressive player on the day, while Brengle, ranked 57, simply made too many unforced errors.

They swapped breaks midway through the first set, when Zhu, serving at 4-5, got herself into trouble and, on her 3rd set point, fired too long on a backhand down the line to put the American in front.

The Chinese struck back in the first game of the second set and, as the rain fell, she went 2-1 up when the players went off court at 4.14pm.

Play resumed at 5pm, and a wonderful cross-court shot from the baseline got the break back for Brengle to level the score at 3-3.

There were 4 breaks of serves in a row that took matters into a tiebreak, in which Brengle went up 4-2 at the change of ends, and then held a match point on her own serve at 6-5, but Zhu pushed the American out wide during the points, got herself an easy put away at the net and, 2 points later, the Chinese had a set point which she was able to convert when Brengle overhit her backhand.

The American had trouble with her serve in the decider, and Zhu proved the more consistent on her’s as she stretched out to a 5-2 lead but, in a further twist to the match, she was then broken when serving for it at 5-3.

Brengle failed to dominate on serve, though, and, on match point to Zhu, the American sent her backhand into the net.


Venus Williams won her first match since Wimbledon 2021 against Katie Volynets in Auckland

© Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Meanwhile, there was no such trouble for the tournament’s No 8 seed from Canada, with Rebecca Marino defeating Alma Galfi from Hungary, 6-3 7-6(3), in 2 hours of play.

Marino takes on qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure from Belgium next, who outlasted American Caty McNally, 5-7 6-4 6-4, after a two and-a-half hour battle.

If the two Canadians win their next matches, they will meet in the quarter-finals.

Serena Williams, who won in Auckland in 2020 when the tournament last took place, is not on hand to defend her title after signalling her retirement at the US Open, but her older sister, Venus, accepted a wild-card into the main draw, and won her opening encounter with fellow American Katie Volynets, 7-6(4) 6-2.

For Venus, a former World No 1, it was red-letter day as she came from a break down in the first set to win her first tour-level singles match since Wimbledon 2021.

In so doing, the 42-year-old, who won the ASB Classic in 2015, set up a meeting with Zhu in the next round.

In a close first set, Volynets served for a first set lead at 5-4, but Williams hit back by breaking her opponent to love, before going on to take the tiebreak, and then racing out to 5-0 in the second, and she had the match wrapped up 3 games later.

“This is one of my favourite places to come, I was so excited that I made it here,” the 7-time Grand Slam champion said in her on-court interview. “I’m happy to get a win today against a great opponent.”

Last month, it was announced that Williams, who made her professional debut back in 1994, has received a wild-card for the main draw of the upcoming Australian Open, which begins on 16 January.

Tuesday’s schedule in Auckland sees Emma Raducanu in action against Linda Fruhvirtova, Brenda’s older 18-year old sister, as well as top seed Coco Gauff against Tatiana Maria.





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