Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Tennis: Stars set to sparkle on court

Williams, Ivanovic and Wozniacki provide wow factor at Classic.
Venus Williams. Photo / NZME.
Venus Williams. Photo / NZME.

It's unusual for the "house full" signs to go up this early in the week, but it could happen today at the ASB Classic.

One of the bigger days in tournament history is set to unfold in Auckland, with three of the more recognisable names in women's tennis all on centre court.

Venus Williams. Ana Ivanovic. Caroline Wozniacki. It's a lineup you would be lucky to see on the Rod Laver Arena in a single day. Add the presence of local favourite Marina Erakovic and former Grand Slam champion Francesca Schiavone and you have a spectacular summer spectacle.

Sure, there have been much more important days in the tournament's history - like Erakovic's semifinal appearance in 2008, or Belinda Cordwell lining up in the final in 1989 - but few with more star power.

Three former world No1s, who all have profiles that stretch beyond their sport and are as likely to appear in Vogue or Time magazine, as they are in Sports Illustrated.

And they have all thrived in Auckland. 2014 winner Ivanovic is unbeaten here, defending champion Williams is a two-time finalist and Wozniacki reached the quarter-finals as a teenager in 2009 and lost the decider to the American last January.

It's been fortunate for the tournament - and the fans - as it hasn't always happened with top seeds here. Remember Maria Sharapova in 2011? She arrived with an avalanche of publicity, provoking paparazzi-like scenes when she ventured outside her hotel. But she was gone by the Thursday of that week, dumped in the quarter-finals by world No88 Greta Arn.

Or Li Na, who was second seed in 2010 and enjoyed a bungy jump and sightseeing in Auckland but didn't seem to be interested in tennis, with a miserable 6-1, 6-3 first-round loss.

Williams had a spectacular 2015 - named the WTA's comeback player of the year as she returned to the top 10 for the first time in six years and won three titles. The 35-year-old will be aiming to defend those points won, and also win back-to-back tournaments at the same venue, a feat she hasn't managed since 2010.

Ivanovic had an average season last year by her standards and needs a good start to 2016, while Wozniacki hopes to make it third time lucky in Auckland this week.

All three should progress today, but as Williams said last year "no match at this level is easy". Wozniacki is up against world No57 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro. Kovinic broke into the top 100 for the first time last year and reached one WTA level final (Tianjin).

Williams faces world No75 Daria Kasatkina, who jumped almost 300 places last year on the WTA tour. In another nod to the American's incredible longevity, she wasn't even born when Williams started on the tour.

Ivanovic's match could be the most intriguing. She faces Brit qualifier Naomi Broady (world No122), who has become a familiar face since the Serbian relocated to the north of England last year.

"We now practise at the same club so it is quite funny that we play first round here," said Ivanovic of Broady. "She has a big serve and a one-handed backhand. I've never played her but it is going to be a tough match - she already has three matches under her belt. That's why it was very good for me to get doubles in today."

It was good for the crowd too - it was the most entertaining match of the day, as Ivanovic and Dutchwoman Kirsten Flipkens came back from a set down to beat the top seeds, Czech pair Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova 4-6, 6-4, 10-3.

ASB Classic today

CENTRE COURT start 12.15pm

WC-F. Schiavone (ITA) v Q-T. Paszek (AUT)
D. Kovinic (MNE) v 3-C. Wozniacki (DEN)
1-V. Williams (USA) vs D. Kasatkina (RUS)

Not before 6.30pm

Q-N. Broady (GBR) v 2-A. Ivanovic (SRB)
Y. Putintseva (KAZ) v WC-M. Erakovic (NZL)

GRANDSTAND start 12.15pm

L. Hradecka (CZE) v J. Goerges (GER)
Q-K. Bertens (NED) v 7-B. Strycova (CZE)
Q-K. Flipkens (BEL) v B. Mattek-Sands (USA)
After suitable rest: D. Kovinic (MNE) / B. Strycova (CZE) v T. Maria (GER) / L. Siegemund (GER)

COURT 2 start 12.15pm

M. Doi (JPN) v C. Mchale (USA)
J. Rae (GBR) / A. Smith (GBR) v L. Kichenok (UKR) / N. Kichenok (UKR)
J. Larsson (SWE) / A. Van Uytvanck (BEL) v 3-A. Groenefeld (GER) / C. Vandeweghe (USA).

- NZ Herald

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