Ashleigh Barty, Serena Williams to lead field at Australian Open warm-up competitions

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Ashleigh Barty and Serena Williams
Ashleigh Barty and Serena Williams

Melbourne [Australia], January 7 (ANI): Twenty three-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and Australian tennis player Ashleigh Barty will lead the field in the two WTA tournaments ahead of the Australian Open.

The Australian summer of tennis will kick off with two WTA 500 and two ATP 250 tournaments featuring the world's best players.

The Melbourne Summer Series at Melbourne Park will be played from January 31 to February 6, 2021.

Leading the women's field is top-ranked Barty, who will make her first competitive appearance in 11 months, after opting not to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last summer, the 24-year-old won the inaugural Adelaide International title and became the first local woman to reach an Australian Open semifinal since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.

The Queenslander will face fierce competition from a Grand Slam quality field, with 49 of the world's top 50 players committed to compete. This includes Serena (USA), world No.2 Simona Halep (ROU), defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin (USA), and past AO champions Naomi Osaka (JPN), Victoria Azarenka (BLR) and Angelique Kerber (GER).

"There's no doubt this will be a historic week of tennis and is the biggest-ever AO lead-in week we have seen in Australia. It's an exciting prospect for fans both onsite and watching around the world," said Tennis Australia Head of Major Events Cameron Pearson.

"While we know the circumstances are unique this year, it is a huge coup to secure such strong playing fields," he added.

Each WTA tournament will feature a 64-draw, with the top-32 ranked players to be split across the two events and remaining players randomly drawn.

On the men's side, the fields have already been divided into two ATP 250 tournaments.

World No.16 David Goffin (BEL) and [20] Karen Khachanov (RUS) lead the Great Ocean Road Open, with former top-10 players Kevin Anderson (RSA) and John Isner (USA) also competing alongside Australia's Jordan Thompson.

Nick Kyrgios is set to light up Melbourne Park in the Murray River Open, joining former AO champion [18] Stan Wawrinka (SUI) and [19] Grigor Dimitrov (BUL), two players who have enjoyed great success in Melbourne. Exciting young gun [21] Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) and Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic (CRO) have also entered.

The tournaments will be named to recognise key regions of Victoria as the Melbourne Summer Series and Australian Open promote the reinvigoration of the state following the challenges faced due to both bushfires and the pandemic. (ANI)