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Ash Barty is back – World No 1 heads star-studded WTA 500 in Melbourne

World No 1 Ash Barty will headline the field in the WTA event the week before the Australian Open, having not played since last February.

Ashleigh Barty - Adélaïde 2020 Ashleigh Barty – Adélaïde 2020

After 11 months off the Tour because of the Coronavirus pandemic, world No 1 Ash Barty will return to action as she prepares for her bid to win the Australian Open.

The Australian, who chose not to return to the Tour in August due to concerns about the virus and how little training she had been able to do, headlines the new WTA 500 event that will be staged at Melbourne Park from Jan 31-Feb 6.

Ashleigh Barty, Doha 2020

World-class field

Barty, who reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open last year, won the warm-up event in Adelaide but will have her work cut out for a repeat against a world-class field, with 49 of the world’s top 50, including world No 2 Simona Halep and Serena Williams, who will be going for her record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title at the first Grand Slam event of the year.

Defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin is also in the field, along with former Australian Open champions Naomi Osaka, Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber.

The top 32-ranked players will be split between the two WTA 500 events, each of which will have a 64-player draw with the remaining players drawn randomly.

“Having 49 of the world’s top 50 women, and an outstanding men’s field commit for the Melbourne Summer Series is a huge bonus for fans and promises quality matches for players leading into the Australian Open,” Tennis Australia Head of Major Events Cameron Pearson said in a statement.

“There’s no doubt this will be an 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. While we know the circumstances are unique this year, it is a huge coup to secure such strong playing fields. I hope fans, whether onsite or watching at home, will embrace what will be a high quality week of events.”

Nick Kyrgios

Kyrgios returns

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who, like Barty, chose not to return to the Tour in August, is set to headline the “Murray River Open”, one of the two ATP 250 events that will be held in the week of Jan 31-Feb 6, at the same time and venue as the 12-nation ATP Cup. Former Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Marin Cilic will also be in the draw.

The other ATP 250 – the “Great Ocean Road Open” – will be headed by world No 16 David Goffin, Karen Khachanov, Kevin Anderson and John Isner.

Due to Coronavirus protocols, Melbourne Park will be split into three zones for the week, to ensure that as few people as possible mix.

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