AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Defending champion Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium beat former top-ranked Dinara Safina of Russia 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-1 in a hard-fought first round match Tuesday at the ASB Tennis Classic.
The 23rd-ranked Wickmayer said she was "sad" to have beaten Safina, who is attempting to reclaim her ranking which slipped to 63 as she battled a back injury through 2010. She said Safina "deserves to come back and get back her top ranking."
Wickmayer claimed the first set of the two-hour contest with service breaks in the second and eighth games, dropping her own serve in the fifth. She had chances to clinch the match in the 57-minute second set, but Safina fought tenaciously to take it to a tiebreaker.
Wickmayer then won the final set in 33 minutes with service breaks in the second and sixth games as Safina faded, showing signs of her lack of recent match play.
The match was still of extremely high quality, fast-paced and full of long and enthralling rallies. It was an anomaly in the tournament draw that two such accomplished players were drawn to meet in the first round.
"I think we played some amazing points, both of us," Wickmayer said. "The service games I lost at the end [of the second set], she made three unbelievable winners."
"In the third, I tried to start off well and be aggressive again, but we both played a great match."
Wickmayer said she was not disappointed to meet a player of Safina's quality in her first match in 2011, saying the encounter fully tested her preparation for the new season.
"I knew it was going to be tough as soon as I saw the draw," she said. "It was a tough draw and a really tough match, but I was really happy with the way I played.
"In preparation for the Australian Open that's what we're looking for, good matches, good rhythm, and that's what I had today."
Wickmayer will face German qualifier Sabine Lisicki in the second round on Wednesday.
In other matches on Tuesday, sixth-seed Elena Vesnina of Russia beat New Zealand wild card Marina Erakovich 6-2, 6-2 and eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain beat Romina Oprandi of Italy 6-3, 7-6 (7).
Lisicki beat Florencia Molinero of 6-1, 6-3 and Heather Watson of Britain beat Noppawan Lertchewakarn of Thailand, 6-1, 6-1.