Defending champion Venus Williams says she couldn’t find the magic as the ASB Classic lost a huge dose of star power in the space of two matches on centre court.
Williams, the top seed and world No.7, exited after losing to Russian teenager Daria Kasatkina 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-3 in Auckland on Tuesday.
Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, the No.2 seed and 2014 champion, followed her out of the opening round by going down to British qualifier Naomi Broady 7-5 6-4.
“I wasn’t at my best unfortunately and she played really well, she played a smart game,” Williams said.
“It’s tough, the first match. You’re not going to play perfect, but I hope I’m able to pull it out, but I didn’t really find the magic.”
The contest was a seesawing one and both players mixing some excellent shot-making with mistakes, with Williams making the greater number of unforced errors.
“Definitely get some more balls in,” she said about what she wanted to work on ahead of the Australian Open.
“You’ve to imagine if I have 10 less, five less errors that this match can go my way.”
It was by far the earliest exit in Auckland for the 35-year-old Williams, who spoke through a cough she said she had just picked up.
On her first visit two years ago, the seven-time grand slam winner finished runner-up to Ivanovic and last year won the title.
For the 18-year-old Kasatkina, the win was the biggest of her fledgling career.
“It was a big pleasure to play against Venus because she’s a legend,” she said.
“When I was young, it was a dream to play against her. Now I’ve beaten her, it’s something unbelievable.”
Having risen from 370 to 72 in the rankings during the course of 2015, Kasatkina has her eye on getting into the top-20 over the coming year.
Ivanovic, the world No.16, came up against an opponent in Broady who was in excellent form and who used her height to send down 14 aces.
Ivanovic had the chance to serve out the first set at 5-4 but couldn’t convert.
In the second, she saved two match points to get to deuce but, when about to save a third, pushed her volley wide.
She said she knew she would be in for a tricky challenge against someone who already had three qualifying matches under her belt.
“She’s a streaky player and it’s never easy playing those kinds of opponents, especially in the first round,” she said.
“She just serves well and I felt, off the ground strokes, she was hitting extremely well.”
Broady, the world No.122, is one of three qualifiers into the second round, along with Belgian Kirsten Flipkens and Austrian Tamira Paszek.
Just four seeds remain, among them third seed Caroline Wozniacki, the Dane overcoming a sluggish start to get past Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic 6-4 6-4.