Kuznetsova encouraged by early form

Two-time grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova is encouraged by the early signs after getting past the Auckland Classic’s opening round for the first time in her past three attempts.

The Russian No.4 seed was leading Germany’s Mona Barthel 6-2 1-1 on Monday when the match came to a premature end, with Barthel retiring with a stomach complaint.

Kuznetsova, the world No.25, had been wary of the 45th-ranked Barthel, who made the last four in Auckland three years ago and is noted as a heavy hitter.

She said the wind also made conditions tricky on centre court.

“I’m still jetlagged a little bit,” she said.

“I can still improve in movement and many things but so far I’m pretty good – better than in the past, that’s for sure.”

Kuznetsova has been a semi-finalist in Auckland, but her last two visits have ended in first-round exits.

“It’s a new year and we start from zero,” she said.

“I’m happy, healthy and trying to do my best.”

Kuznetsova will next meet either Italian wildcard and former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone or Austrian qualifier Tamira Paszek, and she has winning records over both.

But Schiavone beat her in their last meeting, an epic encounter at last year’s French Open, and also in another marathon contest at the 2011 Australian Open which went to four hours and 44 minutes.

Kuznetsova had no preference as to which player she wanted to face, but said “it would be interesting” if it turned out to be Schiavone.

Kuznetsova was the highest-seeded player on the first day’s singles program.

The tournament’s big three – defending titleholder Venus Williams, 2014 winner Ana Ivanovic and runner-up last year Caroline Wozniacki – begin their campaigns on Tuesday.

Ivanovic, who faces British qualifier Naomi Broady, tuned up by teaming with singles qualifier Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium in a first-round doubles match.

Meanwhile, American Lauren Davis, a semifinalist last January when she lost to Williams, has failed to make the main draw.

The world No.88 was the fourth seed in the qualifying event, but was upset by Dutch eighth seed Kiki Bertens 6-4 6-2 in the final round.

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