Whether it was adult fans reclining in the sunshine with a drink in hand, or young fanatics gripping oversized tennis balls for their heroes to sign - there was just one name on everyone's lips last night.

Venus Williams was the highlight for crowds at day one of the ASB Classic at Auckland's ASB Tennis Centre.

Despite the humidity and threatening clouds early on - and a late appearance - Williams was a crowd-pleaser.

Some of the near-sellout audience - rare for the first night - ran to their seats to ensure they didn't miss a minute of the action.


Others thronged at the court's entrance for a chance to get the star's autograph. Fans also swarmed Serbian star Ana Ivanovich, who stopped and signed memorabilia for a mob of youngsters as she left the court.

Not only were ticket sales stronger than previous years, the atmosphere was brighter than ever for first-night matches.

The crowd roared into life when Williams stepped on court, many standing to get their first glimpse.

Williams last night defeated Czech Republic wildcard Andrea Hlavackova 6-3, 7-6.

Among those watching Williams was 6-year-old Abby Wachter who has just moved to Auckland from Nevada, US.

She could not believe she would get to see her tennis hero, Williams, in the flesh.

"I really like watching her play," she said.

Brendan Cooper, 10, has been playing tennis since he was 6. He collected the names of both Williams and Ivanovic to his giant novelty tennis ball.

"It's good to get the signatures and I like watching the tennis," he said.