Ash Barty will help to kickstart Australia's delayed summer of tennis, confirming she'll make her long-awaited return to the court in next week's star-studded exhibition event in Adelaide.
Out of action for 11 months, Australian world No.1 Barty seized the early opportunity to measure her readiness for the Australian Open, joining world No.2 Simona Halep, third-ranked Naomi Osaka and 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams in the women's field.
Called 'A Day at the Drive', the January 29 exhibition at Memorial Drive also features the top-three ranked men, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem plus teenage Italian world No.26 Jannick Sinner.
The field boast 67 grand slam singles titles between them.
Barty has been preparing in Melbourne since shifting from her Queensland base, while the other big names are on a modified lockdown in Adelaide, training up to five hours a day, and come out of quarantine the day before the event.
Barty, who reached the Australian Open semi-finals last year, hasn't played a tcompetitive match since she was a semi-finalist at the Qatar Open in February.
She skipped last year's US Open and the French Open, where she was set to defend her title, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Barty, 24, cited the health risks plus poor preparation when she was separated from her coach due to Australia's border restrictions for staying put.
"I am looking forward to playing my first match for the 2021 season in Adelaide," Barty said.
"I have fond memories from the Adelaide International last year (when she won)."
Following the exhibition she will contest the WTA 500 tournament at Melbourne Park in the lead-up to day one of the Australian Open on February 8.
Meanwhile, former US Open and Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson has pleaded with quarantined players to how more respect for Australia's approach to the pandemic following a series of complaints about conditions in Melbourne.
Anderson, who took over has head of the ATP Player Council last year after Djokovic stepped down, said players needed to be more appreciative.
With 72 players in 14 days hard lockdown following positive tests on three charter flights, there have been complaints about the lack of fresh air, food, room sizes and mice.
"We all really need to respect whatever Australia has gone through to get to this point where, you know, just driving through the courts you see the residents of Melbourne walking around without masks, interacting, and I know that they've sacrificed to get to that point," the world No. 82 told ABC Radio Melbourne.
The South African said players were frustrated, given others were able to train and those in Adelaide could bring a larger entourage.
"From the players perspective I really hope that they can see what's going on, and from the community you know they at least forgive the players who have said things and understand that," Anderson said.
Australian Associated Press