Venus Williams won the battle of the former world tennis number ones at the ASB Classic on Tuesday, claiming a thrilling three-sets victory over Victoria Azarenka in Auckland.
In a match full of twists and turns, the 38-year-old American rallied from a breakdown in the third set to beat Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, in what she described as one of the toughest first-round matches of her career.
Williams appeared in good form when she swept through the first set in 48 minutes, but her Belarusian opponent fought back to win the second in just 34.
Azarenka gained confidence as she broke Williams for an early lead in the third, clinching the break with a well-placed lob.
But Williams immediately broke back, and quickly capitalised to win the final set in a match which lasted 2h, 11m on centre court.
"Tonight was not easy, maybe one of the toughest first rounds I've ever played," Williams said. "She has the experience and the first match of the year, too.
"My goal was to get past this first round because did you see who I had to play today?
"We need these matches going into the Australian Open and I actually had a very similar circumstance last year, played an amazing player and didn't really get any matches.
"So I thought, 'Oh no, not again.' I'm hoping that the next round, too, will be fruitful for me and I already got one of my goals for 2019 so more to come."
In other matches, defending champion and second-seeded Julia Goerges beat Khanna Larsson 6-0, 6-4. Third-seeded Su-Wei Hsieh beat Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-3, fifth-seeded Barbora Strycova beat Taylor Townsend 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 and seventh-seeded Kirsten Flipkens beat Sachia Vickery 6-2, 6-2.
Eighth-seeded Alison van Uytvanck retired with an injury at 3-4 in her first set against qualifier Bibiane Schoofs.
Williams will meet 2017 champion and fellow American Lauren Davis in the second round on Wednesday.
Other matches to be played on day three of the tournament include top seed Caroline Wozniacki taking on German Laura Siegemund, while both Goerges and fan-favourite Eugenie Bouchard will play their second-round singles matches.