The draw for the 2019 Sydney International is out and the field is jam-packed with the game's top players, led by World No.1 Simona Halep and No.2 Angelique Kerber. Both women are set to play their first WTA tournaments of the season in Sydney, with Kerber returning as the defending champion.
Top Eight Seeds: No.1 Simona Halep, No.2 Angelique Kerber, No.3 Sloane Stephens, No.4 Petra Kvitova, No.5 Karolina Pliskova, No.6 Kiki Bertens, No.7 Daria Kasatkina, No.8 Anastasija Sevastova.
Top Half: Halep, Stephens, Pliskova, Bertens
Bottom Half: Kerber, Kvitova, Kasatkina, Sevastova
Last Year's Final: Angelique Kerber d. Ashleigh Barty 6-4 6-4
Simona Halep kicks off her 2019 season.
The World No.1 has not played a match since retiring with a back injury in the opening round of the China Open in September. That injury would sideline her for the remainder of the season and force her to leave her racquets in the bag for six weeks after the WTA Finals, a break that's twice as long as most players can allow themselves. We'll be keeping an eye on Halep to see how she's moving, how her back holds up in competition, and how quickly she shakes off the rust.
Halep is the only Top 10 player we have yet to see strike a tennis ball in the first week of the season - No.2 Kerber looked incredibly sharp at Hopman Cup, where she went undefeated in singles - so all eyes will be on Sydney when she takes the court for her first match. After a first-round bye, Halep will play either Jelena Ostapenko or Ashleigh Barty in the second round.
Angelique Kerber officially gets underway.
The defending champion looked fantastic at the Hopman Cup exhibition in Perth during week one, tallying wins over Ashleigh Barty, Garbiñe Muguruza, Belinda Bencic, and Alize Cornet. Now she gets back to business, playing her first WTA event of the season.
Kerber's season started similarly last year, when she rolled through Hopman Cup and the Sydney title, before a monumental effort from Halep stopped her in the Australian Open semifinals. Kerber is already on the shortlist of top favorites for the title in Melbourne, and a successful title defense in Sydney will only solidify that.
Kerber leads a bottom half of the draw that's a little bit softer after World No.5 Naomi Osaka withdrew from the event over the weekend. Kerber will open against either Ajla Tomljanovic or Camila Giorgi, with a potential clash with Petra Kvitova or Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals.
The Aryna Sabalenka train steams ahead.
After her opening week title run at the Shenzhen Open, Sabalenka is looking primed for a Grand Slam breakthrough at the Australian Open. But the field in Shenzhen did not offer her the test that Sydney will, and the Belarusian opens against Petra Kvitova in a rematch of their US Open Round of 16, which Sabalenka won with relative ease.
Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens bounce back.
Both women lost early in Brisbane but neither should go into Sydney under a cloud of concern. Stephens struggled a bit with her rhythm in her first match of season against a very good Johanna Konta, while Bertens had match point against eventual semifinalist Donna Vekic in the second round.
The two are primed to do some damage in Melbourne. In Sydney they anchor the second quarter in the top half, which also features Garbiñe Muguruza. Bertens and Muguruza could face in the second round.
Brisbane redux for Karolina Pliskova and Lesia Tsurenko.
Assuming both women feel fit enough to head to Sydney, the final of the Brisbane International will be a first-round match in Sydney. Pliskova has been drawn into the top half and faces Tsurenko immediately.
Notable first-round matches: Petra Kvitova vs. Aryna Sabalenka, Jelena Ostapenko vs. Ashleigh Barty, Anett Kontaveit vs. Elise Mertens, Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Carla Suárez Navarro, Timea Bacsinszky vs. Anastasija Sevastova.