Ten Aussies set for Sydney
Ash Barty and Alex De Minaur head the Australian charge at the Sydney International, with four women and six men in the main draws.
Ash Barty faces the ultimate test ahead of the Australian Open after receiving a brutal draw for next week’s Sydney International.
Barty plays 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko for the right to take on world No.1 Simona Halep in a second-round blockbuster at Olympic Park.
So hot is the women’s field – which officials suspect is the strongest ever assembled for a 30-player WTA event – that unseeded Barty could potentially have to topple three Grand Slam champions in four matches just to repeat her run to last year’s final.
All up, the Sydney draw – with an incredible direct entry cut-of of No.28 – features eight of the world’s top 10 players and eight major winners.
Win or lose against Ostapenko, the 15th-ranked Barty is certain to arrive in Melbourne for the Australian Open match-hardened and primed for her best-ever Grand Slam tilt.
The Australian No.1 has already played three matches at the Hopman Cup, downing former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza and Alize Cornet before falling to the second-ranked Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, plus three mixed doubles encounters.
Barty isn’t the only Australian with a tough draw in Sydney.
Wildcard Sam Stosur has been pitted against former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, Ajla Tomljanovic plays free-hitting Camila Giorgi, while Daria Gavrilova opens against a yet-to-be-determined qualifier.
Fifth-seeded Alex de Minaur begins his quest to reach the men’s final for the second year in a row against Dusan Lajovic, while John Millman takes on Frances Tiafoe.
Three other Australians are in the draw headed by Greek top seed and world No.15 Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Matthew Ebden could meet Tsitsipas in round two if he gets past Nicolas Jarry first up.
Rising teenager Alexei Popyrin faces Martin Klizan, while fellow wildcard James Duckworth has a tough opener against seventh seed Marton Fucsovics.
— #SydneyTennis (@SydneyTennis) January 5, 2019
Fellow Australian Kimberly Birrell, meanwhile, has continued her sizzling summer with a three-set upset win over French former world top-tenner Kristina Mladenovic to reach the final round of qualifying.
A winner of last month’s Australian Open Play-off before conquering world No.10 Daria Kasatkina in Brisbane, 19-year-old Birrell saved a match point before posting a thrilling 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(8) victory on Saturday.
Priscilla Hon also progressed with an impressive 6-1 6-4 first-round qualifying win over Aleksandra Kunic.
Abbie Myers, Maddison Inglis, Destanee Aiava, Alexandra Bozovic, Alex Bolt and Chris O’Connell are also trying their luck in qualifying.