Three-time ASB Classic finalist hopes to kick-start her record after tough year

Belgian tennis star Yanina Wickmayer is hoping to rekindle her love affair with Auckland at next week's ASB Classic.

Ranked 76th, the three-time ASB Classic finalist and 2010 title winner believes the Stanley St arena will provide the ideal launching pad for her 2014 season.

"I obviously like this tournament," Wickmayer said. "It's always been a good week for me to start off the year and have some pretty good results.

"I have so many good memories here and I'm happy to be back and start off my season after a really tough year."

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The rangy 25-year-old right-hander first stormed into Auckland as a wildcard entry in 2010. Seeded third, she defeated first seed Flavia Pennetta in the final and won the tournament without dropping a set.

She returned to defend her title the following year, seeded second, but lost the final to Hungarian veteran Greta Arn 3-6, 3-6.

In 2013, Wickmayer rose again, toppling fellow countrywoman Kirsten Flipkens and German Mona Barthel en route to the final before losing to Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, 4-6, 4-6.

Despite being unable to match her initial success, Wickmayer is pleased with the growing profile and reputation of the Auckland event.

"It is definitely getting stronger and it's a very nice tournament. I loved it the first time I came here and since then it has been growing.

"The courts have been much better, there's a big gym here, and everyone likes to start the year off here."

The mild Kiwi summer and warm local hospitality help provide an ideal lead-in to the more extreme Australian climate and serious business of the season's first grand slam tournament in Melbourne.

"It's quite calm and people are very nice and the weather is hot but not as hot as in Australia," Wickmayer explains.

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"Coming from Europe and spending the winter at home, it's quite nice to have it be not that hot yet. Going into the Australian summer it is nice to have a little bit of a change.

"It gets us adapting faster to the weather than going from zero to 40 in one hop, so that's quite nice.

"It's always a bit windy [here] but it's okay, nice conditions to start off the summer."

Also pleasing is the fact the previously lightning-quick Auckland surfaces have been slowed and brought into line with the Melbourne Park courts, although Wickmayer denies the changes will affect her tactical approach.

"No, not really. It's nice to see that it is the same surface as Melbourne; it gets us prepared really well.

"Playing Sydney next week is [also] the same surface so that's nice to have the same surface during the Australian summer but I don't think it changes anything.

"We play different surfaces every week so we're used to adapting and then just playing our game on different surfaces."

Last season proved a difficult one, and despite posting a first round French Open victory over 14th-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, she failed to prove herself as a genuine contender in any of the four grand slam events.

Back in Auckland and recently engaged to her trainer, former Belgian footballer, Jerome van der Zijl, Wickmayer is eyeing a difficult draw with a strong field that includes number one seed Wozniacki, Italy's Sarra Errani, and big-hitting American Venus Williams. "The draw is tougher every year.

"Last year they had a really tough draw too with Ana Ivanovic playing, and every year it's been a really tough draw," Wickmayer said.

"It is nice to compete at a high level and have good matches at the start of the year so it's nice to see all of those good players coming here."