WTA Sydney: Venus Williams makes her return, leads star-studded field

Venus Williams headlines Apia International Sydney entry list, making her return to Sydney after a lengthy absence.

WTA Sydney: Venus Williams makes her return, leads star-studded field
The Apia International Sydney would once again welcome a high-quality field | Photos: Getty Images, Graphics: Don Han

The Apia International Sydney has been known as one of the most popular tournaments on the WTA Tour, especially when it comes a week before the first Grand Slam of the year. The past four of the seven years saw at least eight top-10 players signing up for the tournament, but the popularity has decreased after more players opted to withdraw closer to the tournament date. Nonetheless, the cut-off ranking this year was 29, the highest of any tournament on the tour. In 2018, Sydney will once again welcome a Grand Slam quality field as three top-10 players are slated the return, alongside a total of six Major winners.

Top-10 players return to Sydney

Three top-10 players will be part of the field, with Venus Williams headlining the field. The legendary seven-time Grand Slam champion last participated in Sydney 18 years ago, reaching the quarterfinals in 1999. This is the first time Williams has played a warm-up event in the week before a Grand Slam since 2002. Her last appearance in Sydney, though, was in 2000, when she took the Gold Medal at the Olympics.

Venus Williams will make her first appearance in Sydney since 2000 | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac
Venus Williams will make her first appearance in Sydney since 2000 | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac

Making a debut in the main draw would be the 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko, the reigning Roland Garros champion. She would be looking to grab a perfect lead-up to the first Major of the year while defending champion Johanna Konta also joins the star-studded field. The Brit won the title this year, hoisting the trophy without losing a set in the process.

Former champions looking for more success

There are two notable former champions who are surprisingly unseeded, with both Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska aiming to replicate their success. The Czech reached at least the semifinals on every appearance, with her 15th WTA title coming on this ground. Entering the tournament as the defending finalist, the 2012 Wimbledon finalist has tasted success in the past but has to achieve a similar result, or else it would result in a dramatic drop in the rankings.

Petra Kvitova kisses her trophy back in 2015 | Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images AsiaPac
Petra Kvitova kisses her trophy back in 2015 | Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images AsiaPac

We could very well possibly see a rematch of the 2016 WTA Finals final in the first round of Sydney, with both Dominika Cibulkova and Angelique Kerber suffering dips in their form which saw them drop out of the top-20 within a year. Cibulkova has reached the final here in 2013, when she was humiliated 6-0, 6-0 by Radwanska in the final. Her last appearance saw her falling to Eugenie Bouchard in the second round this year. Furthermore, Kerber also managed to make the semifinals on three different occasions, with her most recent result being a disappointing loss to Daria Kasatkina. 2016 finalist Monica Puig also joins the field, albeit in the qualifying rounds due to her ranking.

Home favorites look to leave their mark

There would be a total of three Australians in the draw (bar qualifiers), with the top-ranked Aussie Ashleigh Barty leading the charge for home glory. Surprisingly, it will be Barty’s debut appearance in Sydney while Daria Gavrilova has never gotten back-to-back victories in the tournament, losing to eventual champion Johanna Konta in 2017. 2011 US Open champion and wildcard recipient Samantha Stosur, has participated on 11 different occasions and reached the final once, but exited in the first round to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this year.

Samantha Stosur fell in the opening round this year | Photo: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images AsiaPac
Samantha Stosur fell in the opening round this year | Photo: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images AsiaPac

Hard-hitters look to rule the draw

Being the fourth seed here, Kristina Mladenovic is a formidable player to her counterparts in the field considering the magnitude of her game, despite having not won a match in Sydney in her previous results. Similarly, sixth seed Julia Goerges would also look to improve on her best result, and she is in a good position to claim her first-ever win in the tournament.

Defending quarterfinal points from 2017, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova would look to go one step further despite being unseeded, and she would definitely. be a threat to the seeded players. Compatriot Elena Vesnina was forced to retire during her opening-round match due to a lower-back injury this year, and she will look to grab the perfect warm-up ahead of the Australian Open.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will look to replicate her quarterfinal run from this year | Photo: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images AsiaPac
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will look to replicate her quarterfinal run from this year | Photo: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images AsiaPac

Twice a quarterfinalist, former top-five player Lucie Safarova has opted to participate in Sydney once more, and she would be joined by 2016 Roland Garros semifinalist Kiki Bertens and 2017 Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

Other notable names

The 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens will make an appearance in Sydney for the first time in her career, joining the stellar field. The American will be seeded fifth and looks poised for an outstanding Australian Open after signing up for Brisbane as well. (NOTE: Stephens has withdrawn from Brisbane) Seeded eighth would be the two-time US Open quarterfinalist, Anastasija Sevastova. The Latvian has been one of the most solid and consistent players on tour, and she hasn’t gotten past the qualifying rounds in her past appearances in Sydney.​

Hanging around amongst the unseeded players include Magdalena Rybarikova, the 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist, and Barbora Strycova, a tricky player who the seeds would want to avoid in the early rounds. 2005 semifinalist Peng Shuai will make a return after a two-year absence, and she will be joined by defending quarterfinalist Daria Kasatkina, who earned the biggest victory of her career against Angelique Kerber in Sydney this year. Notable players in the qualifying rounds are former top-10 players Carla Suarez Navarro, Ekaterina Makarova and rising star Catherine Bellis.

Barbora Strycova reached the semifinals in Sydney this year, falling to Radwanska in straight sets | Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images AsiaPac
Barbora Strycova reached the semifinals in Sydney this year, falling to Radwanska in straight sets | Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images AsiaPac