Marcos Baghdatis has quickly established himself as one of the crowd favourites in Auckland after charging into the second round with a thrilling win over Frenchman Adrian Mannarino tonight.
In the best display of tennis seen over the past week and a half at the ASB Classic, Baghdatis and Mannarino wowed the crowd with a stunning exhibition of creative play.
Both players showed some wonderful touches, with one memorable rally lasting 39 shots. But in the end it was the Cypriot that landed the most punches, as the eighth seed played the angles well and showed impressive execution.
The 6-4 6-4 win sees Baghdatis advance to face wildcard Dustin Brown tomorrow, but a bumper schedule on day three of the tournament has relegated the 2006 Australian Open finalist to the outside courts for his second round match.
The bottleneck has been created by the top seeds joining the action tomorrow following a first round bye, as well as the presence of three Kiwis in the doubles draw. Four former winners are set to take the court tomorrow in what is being billed as the battle of the champions.
Spanish third seed and four-time champion David Ferrer will be first up on centre court, taking on Dutchman Robin Haase, before John Isner gets his tournament underway against Malek Jaziri of Tunisia. Defending champion and top seed Roberto Bautista Agut will wrap up the day session against Jiri Vesely (CZE).
In today's other first-round matches, ATP Tour veteran Yen-Hsun Lu upstaged Next Generation star Karen Khachanov, edging the 20-year-old Russian in a tight three set battle to book his place in the second round of the ASB Classic. Khachanov, who was making his debut at the Auckland tournament, was yesterday named in the tour's Next Generation programme - an initiative designed to boost the profile of some of the future stars of the circuit.
The big-hitting Russian, who finished 2016 with a career-high ranking of 53, started strongly yesterday, taking the opening set 6-4, before being worn down by Lu, who proved the more consistent player in a match that featured several short weather disruptions as patches of drizzle blew over the Stanley Street venue.
With both the final two sets decided through a tiebreak, it was the 33-year-old's willingness to chase down everything that helped him advance. In an epic decider to the match, the ascendancy swung back and forth between the players before Lu sealed the win 11-9. The world number 61 will take on American Steve Johnson tomorrow.
Lu's win was the second of two tight three-set battles to take place in the day session, following British qualifier Brydan Klein's thrilling win over Argentina's Facundo Bagnis.
Klein started the match in commanding form, easily taking the first set 6-1, before Bagnis fought back to take the second 8-6 in the tiebreak, saving four match points.
Struggling to refocus following the disappointment of failing to convert those opportunities, Klein quickly found himself 5-2 down in the third, and looked to be heading towards a first-round exit. But the colourful Brit, who produced several outbursts and racquet tosses throughout the match, rediscovered his touch to force the third to a tiebreak. This time he held his nerve on the big points.
Kiwi doubles specialist Marcus Daniell and Brazilian Marcelo Demoliner kicked off their 2017 season in emphatic fashion, advancing through to the quarterfinals with a 6-4 6-4 win over Portugal's Joao Sousa and Guillermo Duran of Argentina.
Despite a confident display, Daniell said he was not as sharp as he hoped, pointing to a limited build-up to his first game of the year.
"I thought Marcelo played great, but I thought my form was pretty poor today. It was my first game of the season and I was a little bit nervous playing in front of the home crowd."
"It was the first match of the season for me. My brother got married last week so I didn't have as many days of tennis in a row as I otherwise would have and I didn't have a tournament last week as most of the other guys here had. That was a trade I decided to make as your brother only gets married every so often," he joked.