Hobart TAS, Australia, 4 January 2014 | AAP
Samantha Stosur and Venus Williams are set to thrust the Hobart International into the tennis spotlight.
The Tasmanian tournament has traditionally allowed players ranked in the 30s and below to fly under the radar in their preparations for the Australian Open.
But top seed Stosur and former world No.1 Williams have meant soaring ticket sales and the sport casting its eye on the Domain Tennis Centre.
World No.18 Stosur has shaken up her preparations for the year’s first Grand Slam event, taking in the Hyundai Hopman Cup and Hobart in an attempt to get more match practice under her belt.
The Australian went winless in Perth but will open her Hobart campaign against a qualifier on Monday as she looks to better her round two exit in Melbourne last year.
“She is the favourite, everybody’s cheering for her and she’s a great player,” defending Hobart champion and third seed Elena Vesnina said.
“Of course she has a little pressure to play at home and I understand her.
“She’s a Grand Slam champion and she can achieve even more I think.”
Injuries have meant Williams’ ranking has fallen to No.47 but the 33-year-old has shown early signs she is on the way back in 2014.
The seven-time Grand Slam tournament champion lost the Auckland final in three sets to another former No.1, Ana Ivanovic, on Saturday.
Unseeded Williams has drawn fifth seed Flavia Penetta in the first round in Hobart.
“Venus is Venus,” Vesnina said.
“She’s a great champion. You feel it on the court.
“When she’s getting more wins, she’s getting more confident, it’s really difficult to stop her.
“It’s just a matter of matches and time she needs.”
Russian Vesnina claimed her first WTA title in Hobart last year will attempt to become the first in the tournament’s 21-year history to back it up.
Previous Hobart champions include big guns Kim Clijsters, Alicia Molik and Anna Chakvetadze, and Vesnina credits the tournament with her progress to the fourth round at the Open last year.
“I lost to Victoria Azarenka who won the title,” she said.
“It was a great run for me and hopefully this year I can improve more there.
The defending champ will open her campaign against Puerto Rican Monica Puig, who made the fourth round at Wimbledon last year.
Three Australian wildcards will join compatriot Stosur at the tournament – Olivia Rogowska, Casey Dellacqua and Storm Sanders.