(Reuters) - Caroline Wozniacki capped 2017 with the biggest win of her career when she claimed a maiden WTA Finals triumph in October and the Dane has carried that momentum into the new season with a ruthless display to kick off her Auckland Classic campaign.
The top seed has a chance to usurp world number one Simona Halep with a victory in New Zealand and the 27-year-old needed just 58 minutes to race past American Madison Brengle with a 6-3 6-0 triumph in their first round encounter on Tuesday.
The world number three is still searching for her first grand slam triumph but after emerging victorious in the elite eight-woman event in Singapore, her raised levels of play could see her make that breakthrough in Melbourne later this month.
Wozniacki is also searching for a first triumph in Auckland after reaching the final in 2015 and despite being tested by Brengle early the contest, the Dane pulled away once she found her rhythm and claimed the last seven games to seal victory.
“I thought I played pretty well, especially considering it’s the first match back of the year,” Wozniacki told reporters. “It took me a couple of games to kind of just get the rhythm and then I started playing better and better.
“I’m just trying to get my legs moving, trying to make the right decisions, wait for the right shots to play aggressive and go for it, and find the right balance of offense and defense.”
The win set up a second round encounter against Croatia’s Petra Martic, who overcame Czech player Marketa Vondrousova 7-6(2) 6-3 in their first round tie to advance.
Elsewhere, former world number two and 2013 Auckland champion Agnieszka Radwanska was forced to dig deep to remain on a semi-final collision course with Wozniacki when the Pole eked out a 6-2 4-6 6-2 victory over Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia.
“I’m just very happy to win my first match of 2018, and I think it was good timing to come back and do it here in Auckland after five years,” Radwanska, who has seen her ranking drop to 28th after a poor 2017, said in her on-court interview.
Third seed Barbora Strycova was also taken the distance in her first round encounter against Italy’s Sara Errani, the Czech emerging with a 6-4 6-7(3) 6-4 victory to set up a second round tie against Sweden’s Johanna Larsson.
The day did not pass without three upsets, however, with defending champion and fifth seed Lauren Davis losing 6-1 6-2 to fellow American Sachia Vickery, while sixth seed Yulia Putintseva and seventh seed Mona Barthel both suffered straight set losses.
The Australian Open is the first grand slam of the season and runs from Jan 15-28 in Melbourne.
Reporting by John O'Brien in Singapore; editing by Sudipto Ganguly