The top seeds at the Yarra Valley Classic and Gippsland Trophy sat down with the press on Sunday to discuss their preparations for the Australian Swing, their experiences during Australia's mandatory 14-day quarantine, and the building pressure and expectation as the Australian Open sits just one week away.
World No.1 Ashleigh Barty is the top seed at the Yarra Valley Classic. On making her return to competition on home soil:
"I think it's excitement more than anything. I feel excited. I feel excited as I've ever been, as eager as I've ever been to get out here and play.
"Drawing on the memories from last Australian summer, they're great memories. It was a hugely successful summer. So I think we just draw from those memories. We stick to our processes and enjoy it.
"This is a time of year that I love. Like I said, I'm so grateful that we have the opportunity to do it all again.
"So from our perspective, we come out here and do what we do. We do it with a smile on our face. But we're certainly eager and driven and excited this year to get underway again."
Karolina Pliskova, the No.3 seed at the Yarra Valley Classic, on how she approached her practices during the two-week quarantine:
"I think you cannot really work on things if you have to [practice] against one player. You have to combine whatever she wants to do. I was lucky enough, I had my Czech mate [Karolina] Muchova with me, so it was quite fun. If I needed to do something, she was quite open to do it.
"Still it's not like you're playing with your coach. I was just able to hit once with Sascha [Bajin] in those two weeks. I think it's not really enough to do what you really want to improve.
"Mainly we played some points, mostly we hit. It was just like more getting into the tournament rhythm because I didn't play points really till Abu Dhabi. Actually, it was my first points at those matches there. So it was not ideal.
"I just wanted to play more and more points, so that was what we did."
World No.5 Elina Svitolina enjoyed a smooth quarantine with Iga Swiatek. Both women are playing the Gippsland Trophy:
"It's been good preparation. To be fair, cannot complain about anything. It was really nice time outside. Was practicing with Iga Swiatek. We had a great time. Really enjoyed our company. Was quite fun.
"Was pleased with my preparation. Now is a little bit different with all the people that are out. You feel a little bit strange at first, but in the end I'm really happy that everything went quite smooth."
The Yarra Valley Classic's No.4 seed Petra Kvitova enjoyed a delicious tradition after being released from quarantine:
"Yeah, we've been in the Munchen German restaurant, which is very close to Czech. Florian [Zitzelsberger, her trainer] is German, so we will enjoy the time over there.
"When I was in the final here two years ago, we went there every night before my match. It was nice memories to be there out again.
World No.7 Aryna Sabalenka, who is riding a 15-match winning streak, on how she is approaching this week's Gippsland Trophy:
"Focus will be more on some things which are going to help me at AO. I would say this tournament for me is preparation for the AO. I mean, of course I want to win one more tournament. If I can, I will do everything to win this one.
"But, yeah, the focus is on the Australian Open because I have already some matches. I still feel like I need more. Yeah, I will just go for it."
The No.5 seed at the Gippsland Trophy, Johanna Konta on her experience on the WTA Players Council during the pandemic:
"To be honest, it's just been humbling to see how hard everyone is just trying to do the best that they can to keep our sport alive. I think maybe not enough acknowledgment or recognition has come from the fact that tennis is such a global sport, so the fact that we were even able to limp through 2020 and are still really trying hard to put stuff together for this year and get things going is a real big feat.
"The amount of players we have coming from all over the world, from the tournaments and how hard they're working to make stuff happen. I think there's just a lot of kudos to everyone involved in this sport in trying to keep it going, hopefully get it flourishing again at some point when the world allows."
The No.6 seed at the Gippsland Trophy, Iga Swiatek looks to build on her Roland Garros success in Melbourne, where she advanced to the third round last year.
"I'm not anxious. I'm mostly excited. Basically I have some kind of amount of stress, but it's a normal amount. I don't feel more pressure than before French Open. Actually, I'm more kind of confident that I can play good tennis.
"But it all depends on my preparation, on my attitude. Basically, I'm trying to keep my expectations low, even though I did a really good pre-season. I'm just waiting for the tournament to start. I've practiced for so long that mostly I'm excited and not anxious.
Who was more surprised by her Roland Garros title? The media or Swiatek herself?
Q. When you look back at the French Open, what you achieved there, was there any one thing that was a key to how you won there? Was there a change in your mentality, a change in your game? A lot of us knew you were a very good player, but I don't think many people realized you were that good.
Swiatek: I didn't realize that either, so...
Basically, there was a huge change. Actually right before the tournament, I had my own doubts and I didn't know if I'm going to be ready to play my best tennis. French Open was always important for me.
I changed my attitude because I remembered that I kind of cared too much before the tournament and it was hard for me to just play and don't think about winning, just focusing on having fun on court, not all the expectations.
I tried to bring back my expectations to a lower level, just having fun on court basically. The beginning of clay season wasn't easy for me. Even though I was looking forward to it, and clay is my favorite surface, I lost in Rome in first round. My confidence level wasn't on the highest one.
So, yeah, I tried to actually not care before the French Open.
Naom Osaka, the No.2 seed at the Gippsland Trophy, recounts a conversation with Swiatek over dinner last year in Melbourne:
"Definitely I would say I was really inspired by Iga. I thought it was really amazing how she was able to be super focused in all her matches. I was watching the finals.
"I thought it was really nice to watch because I ate dinner with her last year here. She was talking about how she might go to college. I was telling her, like, she's really good, and I think she's going to do really well, so maybe don't try to divert your energy to college just yet. I'm glad she was able to win a Grand Slam so fast. Hopefully she'll continue to grow, which I know she will.
"It's really nice to see because she's so nice."
She may not have played a competitive match in 11 months, but Ash Barty remains Ash Barty:
Q. Extra expectations or expectations on you heading into the Australian Open?
Barty: Not my own. Maybe from you guys. But that's on you, that's not on me (smiling).