One of the three events to kick off the 2017 WTA season would get underway on Monday in Auckland with an incredibly strong field for an International-level event.
Who is playing
The top two seeds of the WTA Asia-Pacific International Tournament of the Year would be the Serena Williams, who would be making their debut here in Auckland, coupled with her sister Venus Williams. They would be joined by another former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, a former finalist here.
Former top 20 players and good friends Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova would also start their season here in Auckland. The third-highest ranked Czech Barbora Strycova, Roland Garros semifinalist Kiki Bertens, and up and coming youngsters Jelena Ostapenko and Ana Konjuh round out the seeds.
Top seed and newly-engaged Serena Williams would face the always-dangerous Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier in her first match of the 2017 WTA season and is projected to face fellow countrywomen Madison Brengle in the next match if she wins her first match of the year.
The other seed in the first quarter is Jelena Ostapenko, who had a breakthrough season in 2016. She should be able to get past wildcard Marina Erakovic, who is her first round opponent. Then, she would potentially face a tricky veteran in Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The winner of this match would most likely face the top seed Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal Prediction: S. Williams d. Lucic-Baroni
There would be an all-Czech battle at the top of the second quarter, with three of the four spots being filled by Czech players. Fourth seed Barbora Strycova would be able to get past her first hurdle against a qualifier, and would face a very dangerous opponent in either a resurgent Lucie Safarova or giant-killer Denisa Allertova.
Fifth seed Kiki Bertens would have some trouble if she were to mount a title challenge, as she was faced with a tough first round match-up against a player capable of an upset in Lauren Davis. Not only that, even if she progresses to the second round, she would have to face either Kurumi Nara or Antonia Lottner, which is equally as tricky.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Strycova d. Bertens
Sixth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is also faced with a tough draw in her first tournament of 2017, having to go against former top 20 player Julia Goerges in her season opener. The winner of this match will face the winner of the match between Danka Kovinic and Naomi Broady, with both players being inconsistent but dangerous always.
Good friends Nicole Gibbs and Caroline Wozniacki will face off in their first match of their new seasons, with the winner most probably facing American Varvara Lepchenko, who entered the main draw after Ana Ivanovic retired from professional tennis.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Pavlyuchenkova d. Wozniacki
US Open quarterfinalist Ana Konjuh would start her 2017 against former Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens, which would be a very tight match-up. The draw does not get easier after that though, as either Johanna Larsson or yet another former Grand Slam semifinalist in Yanina Wickmayer awaits in the second round.
Second seed Venus Williams, who will turn 37 next June, should be able to get past her first round opponent, Jade Lewis, a native wildcard. Her second round opponent would be much tougher though, with either hard-hitting rising star Naomi Osaka or German Annika Beck looming in the second round, with Osaka being especially dangerous.