Titleholder Sandgren wins NZ tennis opener

Defending champion Tennys Sandgren of the United States is into the second round of the Auckland Classic, beating New Zealand doubles specialist Michael Venus.

Sandgren won his maiden ATP title last year in Auckland, beating Briton Cameron Norrie in the final. He looked strong on Monday with 15 aces in a 6-4 6-3 win in 70 minutes. Venus, ranked 10th in the world in doubles, was playing his first singles match since a 2018 Davis Cup tie.

Sandgren broke Venus in the third game of the first set but dropped serve in the next game. At 4-5, 30-30, Venus made two unforced errors which handed the first set to the American.

Sandgren broke Venus in the fourth game of the second set and held on comfortably.

In other first-round matches, Brazilian qualifier Thiego Montiero beat Norrie, 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

Montiero's second-round opponent will be fifth seed Benoit Paire. The Frenchman had two code violations and a point deduction en route to a 6-4 2-6 6-4 win over 18-year-old Italian Jannick Sinner.

Sixth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, having beaten world No.4 Dominic Thiem at the ATP Cup, is seen as one of the tour's rising stars. He advanced to the second round with a 7-5 6-3 win over Lorenzo Sonego.

The top four seeds at the tournament, Fabio Fognini of Italy, Canadian Denis Shapovalov, Karen Khachanov of Russia and American John Isner, are not in action until the second round.

Fognini became top seed when Russia's Daniil Medvedev withdrew after playing in the ATP Cup semi-finals.

Isner is a two-time Auckland champion and is looking to the tournament to again give him a strong start to the year.

"I've won it twice and my first ever ATP win was here in Auckland so I definitely have great memories here.

"Throughout my career, I've come here a lot. I've played some great tennis here and I'm looking forward to hopefully playing some good tennis again."