MELBOURNE, Australia - WTA World No.1 Ashleigh Barty heads the field for the first Grand Slam tournament of the new season - the Australian Open at Melbourne Park in February 2021.

Also in contention are WTA World No.2 Simona Halep, 2020 US Open winner Naomi Osaka and defending champion Sofia Kenin along with other top 10 players Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Bianca Andreescu, Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens and Aryna Sabalenka.

Serena Williams will be seeking a record-tying 24th Slam singles title by winning an eighth Australian Open crown. Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka returns, having missed the tournament in 2020, alongside Poland's Iga Swiatek, the newest Grand Slam women’s champion who won Roland Garros in October.

“We are looking forward to welcoming the world’s best players to Melbourne and what promises to be a spectacular Australian Open following a year of disruption on a scale none of us has ever experienced before,” said Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley, referencing the decision to move the event from January to February due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Although the Australian Open will look a bit different to previous years, the safety of everyone is our top priority. We have the opportunity to stage a very safe, and happy Slam, and give the players the experience of competing in front of crowds again, something they’ve missed for most of this year.

“There are so many great storylines for AO 2021. Serena is gunning for her eighth title, our own world No.1 Ash Barty will return to Grand Slam competition and there’s a new crop of rising stars coming up to challenge them. It’s going to be a great few weeks of tennis here in Melbourne.”

Read more: WTA announces start of 2021 Tour season

A total of 104 players receive direct entry into the women’s singles main draw and a further eight are awarded wildcards, while 16 places will be determined at the qualifying rounds from January 10-13 in Dubai. 

Four other women join the field on protected rankings with Yaroslava Shvedova, Vera Zvonareva, Katie Boulter and Mona Barthel all set to play in Melbourne.

Top-ranked Barty will be joined at her home Slam by compatriot Ajla Tomljanovic and Australian wildcards Astra Sharma, Maddison Inglis, Lizette Cabrera and Daria Gavrilova.

There have been eight different women’s champions since 2011 – Kenin (2020), Osaka (2019), Caroline Wozniacki (2018), Serena Williams (2017, 2015), Angelique Kerber (2016), Li Na (2014), Azarenka (2013, 2012) and Kim Clijsters (2011).

For The Obsession