HOBART, Australia - This time last year, the Hobart International was the springboard for No.2 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu's career-best year.
The Romanian, having ploughed her way into the Top 100 in 2017 thanks mostly to racking up wins on the ITF circuit, immediately proved she could replicate those victories at WTA level by reaching her maiden final here. Then she did it again in Prague - before making the second week of Roland Garros, knocking off Elina Svitolina en route, and then winning her first title in San Jose and breaking the Top 20 in August.
It was then that disaster struck in the form of a turned ankle in Montréal, an injury that sidelined Buzarnescu for two months. Since her return in Beijing, though, she has lost four out of four matches - and her bid to get back on track hasn't been helped by this year's Hobart draw, which pits her against former World No.7 Belinda Bencic, who is currently in the Hopman Cup final, in the first round.
At the top of the draw, meanwhile, Caroline Garcia has taken a last-minute wildcard and is this year's No.1 seed. The Frenchwoman, who crashed out of the Shenzhen Open in the first round in a shock defeat to World No.131 Ivana Jorovic, will be seeking to find some form quickly before next week's Australian Open - but has also been dealt a tough opening hand in the form of Sofia Kenin. The 20-year-old American is a dogged competitor who is improving all the time - and who ousted Garcia in straight sets in last year's Mallorca quarterfinals, their only meeting to date.
If Garcia survives that tilt, it doesn't get much better, with the shotmaking talent of Moscow runner-up Ons Jabeur potentially waiting in the second round.
The unpredictable No.5 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova finds herself surrounded by youthful landmines, too. Having barely squeezed by 20-year-old Vera Lapko 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-3 three months ago in Linz, Pavlyuchenkova faces the Belarusian again in her opener this week - with the winner potentially coming up against 18-year-old Dayana Yastremska, the hard-hitting Ukrainian whose title run in Hong Kong thrilled the tennis world last year.
With two-time defending champion Elise Mertens opting against going for a hat-trick of titles, the only former champions in the draw are 2016 titlist Alizé Cornet, this year's No.6 seed, and 2012 winner Mona Barthel. (2015 champion Heather Watson is also in the qualifying draw.) Cornet, who lost all three of her Hopman Cup singles rubbers, could potentially face countrywoman - and Roland Garros conqueror - Pauline Parmentier in the second round, while Barthel has been placed against No.8 seed Alison Van Uytvanck in the first round.
Zhang Shuai will seek to rebound from a first-round Shenzhen loss as the No.3 seed here, with an intriguing potential second-round battle against compatriot - and current Shenzhen semifinalist Wang Yafan - in the offing. No.4 seed Maria Sakkari, meanwhile, would appear to have hit the jackpot with a draw in which she is guaranteed to only face qualifiers to reach the quarterfinals - though a glance at the qualifying rounds, with names such as Anastasia Potapova and Laura Siegemund lurking therein, also indicates that this task may be tougher than it seems for the Greek player.
HOBART INTERNATIONAL 2019 DRAW
[1/WC] Caroline Garcia (FRA) vs. Sofia Kenin (USA)
Ana Bogdan (ROU) vs. Ons Jabeur (TUN)
Timea Babos (HUN) vs. Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK)
Dalila Jakupovic (SLO) vs.  Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)
 Maria Sakkari (GRE) vs. Qualifier
Qualifier vs. Qualifier
Pauline Parmentier (FRA) vs. [WC] Ellen Perez (AUS)
Qualifier vs.  Alizé Cornet (FRA)
 Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) vs. Mona Barthel (GER)
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK) vs. Evgeniya Rodina (RUS)
Yafan Wang (CHN) vs. Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU)
Qualifier vs.  Shuai Zhang (CHN)
 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) vs. Vera Lapko (BLR)
Qualifier vs. Dayana Yastremska (UKR)
Johanna Larsson (SWE) vs. [WC] Zoe Hives (AUS)
Belinda Bencic (SUI) vs.  Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU)