BY A quirk of the calendar, Caroline Wozniacki's opening match of the season fell on the last day of a year to forget. Or regret, perhaps. From first to 10th in 12 months. From Brisbane back to the practice court and then on to Sydney to salvage the remainder of her Australian Open preparation.
In her first official match since November, Wozniacki was beaten 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1) by Kazakhstan's 103rd-ranked Ksenia Pervak at the Brisbane International. The eighth seed controlled the first set, led 2-0 in the third and recovered from a 3-5 deficit to force a tie-breaker that ended badly. As, eventually, did her first round, in two hours, 48 minutes.
''It's always tough to play your first match of the season. It's hard to come back, and to play on your best level in the first match is very tough,'' Wozniacki said. ''She had three [qualifying] matches going into this one and was more used to the courts and everything and already had some matches in her legs, so obviously that's maybe a bit of an advantage.''
This time last January, Wozniacki was the world No.1 - a spot where she spent 67 weeks despite not winning a singles major. In 2012, she won titles in Seoul and Moscow, but her Australian Open quarter-final was her one venture past a grand slam third round.
Still, what appears to have been a difficult year, complicated by a right knee injury, was apparently not so bad. ''Still 10 in the world,'' the Dane said, philosophically.
''As long as I'm healthy and I can fight and be competitive, that is the most important thing. You play the sport you love to do, and obviously it's more fun when you're winning. Right now in these situations, it's not so much fun. There is always the next week. I guess that's the good part about tennis.''
For Pervak, it was a result to rival her defeat of Andrea Petkovic en route to the first round at Wimbledon in 2011, and the left-hander's first victory in seven attempts against top-tenners.
The 2009 Australian Open junior champion moved from Russia to Germany with her family seven years ago and has represented Kazakhstan since the end of 2011, peaking at No.37 before suffering a stress fracture in her pelvis early last year. Her opponent in the next round is Urszula Radwanska.
While Queenslander John Millman qualified for the main draw with a 6-4, 6-2 defeat of American Donald Young, expanding the Australian men's presence to five, Marinko Matosevic was bounced straight out, beaten 7-5, 6-2 by fifth seed Kei Nishikori. Victorian wildcard Olivia Rogowska was eliminated 6-2, 6-3 by qualifier Monica Puig.