Tennis: Safina coming to Auckland

Dinara Safina. Photo / Getty Images
Dinara Safina. Photo / Getty Images

Former world number one Dinara Safina is the latest big name player to be confirmed for the ASB tennis Classic.

The full field for January's tournament has been finalised with Safina joining fellow Russians Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Safina was confirmed overnight making it a trio of Russian Grand Slam talent. Between them they have appeared in 10 Grand Slam finals winning five.

Defending champion Yanina Wickmayer is also returning.

24-year-old Safina has been a beaten finalist in three Grand Slams, Roland Garros in 2008, Australian Open 2009 and Roland Garros 2009.

Much like Sharapova and Kuznetsova it will be Safina's first visit to New Zealand and the ASB Classic.

Currently ranked at 63 in the world Safina, whose brother, Marat is a former No.1 on the men's ATP tour has been recovering from injury and will be a dangerous unseeded player in the draw. She has 12 WTA titles to her credit.

In total there are four Russians who have made the 24-player cut off including 2009 finalist Elena Vesnina.

Another player making her first appearance in Auckland is Ukrainian, Alona Bondarenko who has a current ranking of 36 but has been as high as 19.

She won the title at Hobart at the beginning of the year (her second career win) and also reached the fourth round of the Australian Open defeating Jelena Jankovic in the process.

Bondarenko will be the fourth seed behind Sharapova, defending champion Yanina Wickmayer who has a ranking of 23, Kuznetsova at 27 in the world rankings will be the third seed.

German player Julia Goerges who was triumphant at the Bad Gastein tournament in Austria in 2010 is next on the list at 40, with Klara Zakapalova who was a finalist at two events this year at 41, followed by a player to watch out for, 20-year-old Anastasija Sevastova from Latvia who won her first WTA title in Estoril and finished the season at No45

Age continues to be no barrier for Japan's 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm who will be the eighth seed with a ranking of 46. Date-Krumm reached the final at the WTA event in Osaka and was a quarterfinalist at the ASB Classic and Seoul. Date-Krumm is likely to be the tournament eighth seed.

Two popular British players, Elena Baltacha and Anne Keotavong are returning while there are two Swedish players on the list - Sofia Arvidson and Johanna Larson.

Spaniard Annabel Medina-Garriugues returns for her 11th shot at the title while former world No1 junior Salema Halep will be making her main draw debut.

In total there are 14 different nations represented in the 24 players.

"This is a superb list of players from all over the world with plenty of depth, experience and also new faces too. Having the likes of Sharapova, Kuznetsova - two Grand Slam winners at the ASB Classic at the same time along with former No1 Safina all coming to the country for the first time is fantastic for the ASB Classic and all sport in New Zealand. It's a field full of class and intrigue," says ASB Classic tournament director, Richard Palmer.

With Sharapova and Kuznetsova in the field they add to the elite group of Grand Slam singles winners who have played in a women's international in Auckland since the start of a WTA event in the summer of 1985/86 - the players are Lindsay Davenport, Conchita Martinez, Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, Anastasia Myskina and Francesca Schiavone.

There's plenty of other Grand Slam experience in the form of Spaniard Suarez Navarro who has reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals (Roland Garros 2008 and Australian Open 2009) and Date-Krumm has made three semis and three quarterfinals.

The ASB Classic featuring the Kia Motors Singles and Doubles will be played at the ASB Tennis Centre January 3-8, with qualifying January 1-2. The ASB Classic is a US$220,000 International Series event on the WTA Tour.

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