Czech player Karolina Pliskova spoiled Victoria Azarenka’s comeback bid after an injury-marred 2014, winning a gruelling first-round match at the Brisbane International on Monday.
Pliskova displayed incredible fighting spirit to hold off the former world number one and win the match 4-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-4 in three-and-a-quarter hours.
Azarenka, who won her maiden WTA title in Brisbane in 2009, played only nine tournaments last year after suffering foot and knee injuries.
She slipped to a year-end ranking of 32 and entered the season-opening tournament unseeded.
Pliskova, ranked eight places higher at 24, withstood everything Azarenka threw at her, saving two match points in the 84-minute second set before forcing a decider.
She finished the stronger of the two, breaking Azarenka in the ninth game of the third set to serve for the match at 5-4.
Azarenka refused to give in and had three chances to break straight back. But Pliskova saved them all, eventually clinching victory when a tired-looking Azarenka forehand sailed wide.
Germany’s Angelique Kerber ended a run of defeats by the seeded players when she downed Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia in straight games 6-4, 6-3.
Fourth-seeded Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova had earlier crashed out to American Madison Keys 7-5, 6-2, joining fellow seeds Andrea Petkovic (5) and Jelena Jankovic (6) as first-round losers.
Eighth seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain was forced to withdraw from the tournament on Monday with a left ankle injury.
There were no such problems for Kerber, who had too much firepower for her French opponent, wrapping up the match in a shade under 90 minutes.
Kerber broke Garcia once in the first set and three times in the second to set up a second-round clash against Australian-based Russian qualifier Daria Gavrilova.
Keys has now beaten Cibulkova in all three of their meetings and said she was well-suited to the diminutive Slovakian’s style.
“I think it’s just one of those things where (players) just kind of match up a certain way,” she said.
“I definitely usually play my best against her since she’s such a great player, so I always go in knowing she’s going to get a ton of balls back and I’m going to have to play my absolute best.”
In the men’s draw, Australian young guns James Duckworth and Thanasi Kokkinakis both cruised to upset wins over higher-ranked French opponents.
Duckworth, 22, smashed sixth seed Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-2 at the Pat Rafter Arena before 18-year-old Kokkinakis downed Julien Benneteau, the eighth seed, 6-4, 6-3.
There was some good news for the French, however, with Jeremy Chardy beating Kazakhstan’s Andrey Golubev 6-4, 6-4.