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Barty and Williams headline Open lead-ins

After weeks of off-court drama, Australian Open preparations will be in full swing from Sunday when the first two WTA events of the Melbourne Summer Series get underway.

Australia’s world No.1 Ash Barty has a first-round bye in a star-studded Yarra Valley Classic draw, where Sofia Kenin, Serena Williams, Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova are also looming in the round of 32.

Veteran Samantha Stosur headlines the local drawcards when she meets 16th seed Marie Bouzkova, while Maddison Inglis tackles Rebecca Peterson and Daria Gavrilova takes on Viktoria Kuzmova for the right to face 23-time grand slam champion Williams.

A blockbuster quarter-final match-up between two former world No.1 players – Williams and Pliskova – could take place in the top half of the draw, with the winner a chance to meet Barty in the semi-finals.

Barty lost her comeback exhibition match against world No.2 Simona Halep in Adelaide on Friday, but said it is “bloody good to be back” ahead of the Australian Open on February 8.

“I have been getting a little bit impatient the last two or three months, getting ready to play, and I’m so excited to get started next week,” Barty said.

“Obviously, I have trained over the last few months, but nothing can replicate what we just did.”

Romania’s Halep is the top seed in the Gipplsand Trophy draw, while reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka and world No.5 Elina Svitolina are also expected to feature strongly.

No.4 seed and world No.10 Aryna Sabalenka carries a 15-match winning streak into the event after winning the first title of the WTA season in Abu Dhabi this month.

Australia’s Arina Rodionova, Olivia Gadecki, Ajla Tomljanovic, Astra Sharma and Destanee Aiava are all in action.

World No.69 Tomljanovic tackles France’s Alize Cornet for the right to take on Osaka in the second round.

Both the Yarra Valley Classic and Gipplsand Trophy run from January 31 – February 6 at Melbourne Park.

A third WTA 500 event, the Grampians Trophy, will run from February 3-7 and feature players who were subject to hard quarantine on arrival in Australia.

The top seed is former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who will play her first tour event since 2019 after injuries and the coronavirus pandemic sidelined the 20-year-old Canadian star last year.

Monday’s draw will also feature former Australian Open champions Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber, former US Open champions Sloane Stephens and Svetlana Kuznetsova, and top-20 players Belinda Bencic and Elena Rybakina.

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