One of the most unheralded champions in ASB Classic history is back in the country, and positive about defending her hard-won crown.

Lauren Davis stunned many tennis observers in January when she emerged as the last woman standing in a field that included Serena and Venus Williams, as well as Caroline Wozniacki.

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Davis was priced at 40/1 at the start of the tournament but the diminutive American — who stands only 1.57m — was well worth her victory, beating four seeds and also prevailing in the longest match of the tournament, a 150-minute epic against Dutch woman Kiki Bertens.

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A straight sets win over Ana Konjuh gave Davis her first WTA tour title, after two final defeats in 2016, and is a cherished memory.

"To be honest, I've been looking forward to coming here ever since I left last year, and to playing on that centre court again, said Davis.

"The feeling of winning that title was one that I will take with me for the rest of my life. People love the underdog. I fought with my heart and did what I had to do, with passion and determination."

Then world No 61, Davis rose to a career-high of 26 in May following some solid results, including quarterfinals in Doha and Dubai, and was also part of the American Fed Cup team.

Currently at No 48, she'll be sixth seed next week but denied there is added pressure from being the defending champion for the first time in her career.

"No, it's awesome, it's really exciting," said Davis. " I'll let the results take care of themselves. [I] don't want to focus too much on the pressure and the outcome or anything like that.

"If I focus on myself it will take care of myself. [This year] has had it's ups and downs but I reached my career-high of 26, which showed how much potential I do have, and I'm looking forward to learning from my experiences."

Lauren Davis, Madison Brengle and Christina McHale. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Lauren Davis, Madison Brengle and Christina McHale. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The 24-year-old Davis seems relaxed, which was demonstrated on Thursday when she elected to go paddle boarding at Auckland's Okahu Bay hours after stepping off the plane from the long haul flight from the States.

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She's an expert on the water — "I do a lot of paddle boarding at home in Florida, it's really good cross training" — but compatriots Christina McHale and Madison Brengle were relative novices.

"That was a lot of fun," laughed Brengle.

"Definitely the best I have done at paddle boarding, I stayed upright."

McHale — who had never tried the sport before — struggled in the gusty conditions, but was all smiles afterwards.

"That was pretty hard for someone's first time," said Brengle of her fellow American McHale. "But she did well."