Valentina Ivanov came up trumps in an all-Kiwi battle at the ASB Classic, defeating Whanganui export Paige Hourigan 4-6 6-3 6-3 in the first round of qualifying on Saturday.
Hourigan, the New Zealand No1 after Marina Erakovic's retirement, was looking for revenge after being upset by the 17-year-old Ivanov at the recent national championships.
But Saturday's match was strangely similar; another marathon battle (just over two hours) and Ivanov coming back as Hourigan struggled to maintain her levels.
Hourigan won the first set but then faded in the second, allowing Ivanov back into the match.
Hourigan, who has been based in the United States for the past three years, sprinted to a 3-0 lead in the third set, before losing six straight games, with a flurry of errors.
Ivanov, just as she did at the nationals, was steady throughout and played well in the big moments.
She was particularly impressive in the penultimate game of the third set, coming back from 0-40 and saving five break points before converting her second match point on Hourigan's serve in the next game.
Ivanov's qualifying hopes ended on Sunday, beaten 6-4 6-0 by Dutchwoman Bibiane Schoofs in 68 minutes.
The other Kiwis in qualifying both lost.
Elys Ventura was beaten 6-2 6-2 by Poland's Iga Swiatek in her first outing at this level.
World No179 Swiatek, who won the Junior Wimbledon title this year, was always in control but Ventura displayed some promise.
Fellow New Zealander Erin Routcliffe lost 6-2 6-3 to Russian Alexandra Panova.
There was a scheduled rematch in the doubles draw this afternoon as Hourigan was set to team with American Taylor Townsend against Ivanov and Ventura.
Hourigan's elimination did allow for one huge honour as she was asked to practice with Venus Williams for two hours on Sunday, impressing the former World No1 and seven time Grand Slam singles title winner.
"She's a gorgeous young lady," Williams said of the 21-year-old, after their session on centre court and court No 5 at the ASB Tennis Arena.
"She's got a lot of power, serving well, so the sky is the limit.
"Tennis is the kind of sport where you make your own destiny, so I hope her destiny is greatness."
Hourigan told the Stuff website she had been texting tournament director Karl Budge about doubles wildcards for the classic when he offered her the spot with Williams.
"I hesitated to reply, but of course it's something that you all dream of doing, hitting with someone like that, so I replied yes.
"It was a little big nerve wracking but it was great out there, I loved it."
Hourigan said the 38-year-old Williams still strokes the ball really well, while her returns were "incredible" and her serve "one of the best".
"It was awesome hitting out there and she gave me a few pointers and I'm so happy that I got the opportunity to do it."
Hourigan said she picked up some tips from the five-time Wimbledon winner which she will take on board while preparing for her first full year on the professional circuit in 2019.
"She was saying that I had a great serve.
"I aced her a couple of times and she told me to keep believing in myself and having confidence.
"She also told me that sometimes on my first serve, to slow it down, because a lot of people get caught up with the off pace first serve.
"She was good, she was talking to me like a normal person and it made me feel very comfortable."