Ashleigh Barty’s 11-month layoff from competitive tennis will end when the world No 1 warms up for the Australian Open in the Melbourne Summer Series.
Barty, as well as men’s drawcard Nick Kyrgios, will be among the stars in two WTA 500 and two ATP 250 tournaments that will be played at Melbourne Park from 31 January to 6 February.
The Australian pair have not played a tournament since late February last year, when Barty was a semi-finalist at the Qatar Open and Kyrgios made a first-round exit in Acapulco.
They both skipped last year’s US Open and French Open, where Barty was set to defend her title, due to the threat of Covid-19.
Barty, 24, cited the health risks plus poor preparation when she was separated from her coach due to Australia’s border restrictions. Kyrgios said he felt it was irresponsible to travel and play and spent the year training at his Canberra base.
The four tournaments, with prizemoney of more than $2.2m, have been named to promote key regions of Victoria following last year’s bushfire and then pandemic.
Barty, who reached the Australian Open semi-finals last year, will face stiff competition with 49 of the world’s top 50 players committed to compete.
This includes 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams, world No 2 Simona Halep and defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.
Each WTA tournament will feature a 64-player 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, with many of the top-ranked players entered in the ATP Cup, to be played concurrently at Melbourne Park.
Kyrgios will play the Murray River Open, joining former Open champion Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov.
“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,” said Tennis Australia head of major events Cameron Pearson.
“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.”