The women's field for the ASB Classic will feature four former world number ones following the addition of Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic to the list of headline acts for the January tournament.
After being linked to the event for several weeks, Wozniacki and Ivanovic were unveiled as the latest key signings when the full women's field for the 2017 event was confirmed today. The pair will add further star power to a tournament that had already sold out following the news Williams sisters Serena and Venus would be starting their season in Auckland.
ASB Classic tournament director Karl Budge said securing a field of this quality has been one of his proudest moments in the job. Of the six players to have held the world no. 1 title that are currently active on the circuit, four will be at the ASB Classic in January, turning down the bigger prize money on offer at rival tournaments in Brisbane and Shenzhen.
"I think it's fair to say the ASB Classic has become the WTA tournament of choice in the lead-up to the Australian Open," said Budge.
"This is uncharted territory for a sporting event in New Zealand. Any one of these four players could headline the tournament on their own. They are the most marketable female athletes in the world. True global superstars, known simply by their first names on every continent. Auckland is going to be the centre of the sporting world come the first week of January."
Having battled a wrist injury for most of the year, Ivanovic cut her season short in September, which saw her slip to 63rd in the world rankings.
Wozniacki also took a slide in the rankings over the first half of this year as she battled through a low patch, but the Danish star has climbed back up to end the year ranked at 19. Her return to form ensures there will be four top-20 ranked players, in what is being pitched as the strongest field ever assembled for the tournament.
Serena is ranked at number two and Venus 17, while the Czech Republic's Barbora Strycova just scrapes in at number 20.
While Wozniacki and Ivanovic had been rumoured to be returning to Auckland for several weeks, Budge insists the deals only came together very recently.
"It's been a work in progress up until about 10 days ago. With Ana, I was always optimistic that if she was playing it was going to be in Auckland," said Budge.
"Caroline has been the form player of the last half of the year, along with [Angelique] Kerber, so there was a lot of competition for Wozniacki. Whilst we were always confident we have a great relationship with Caroline, I wasn't sure we would be able to get her here until about 10 days ago. I'm pretty proud - it shows how much she values playing in the ASB Classic."
Other notable names in the field include defending champion Sloane Stephens, ranked 35th in the world, Kiki Bertens (22), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (27) and Lucie Safrova, who will be looking for a strong start to her 2017 season after illness kept her off the court a good chunk of this year.
Budge rates Safrova, the bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics, as one of the key danger women in the field.
"I'll have another one of my sleepness nights on the Friday worrying about who Serena and Venus are going to draw. There are a lot of dangerous loaders down that draw," he said.
The full men's line-up for the January event will be announced next week.
2017 ASB Classic at a glance
- Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic join Williams sisters Serena and Venus as the headline acts for the women's tournament
- The addition of the pair means of the six active players on the WTA circuit to have held the number one ranking, four will be at the ASB Classic in January
- Between the four of them they have won 30 grand slams, 160 WTA titles and spent 399 weeks at world number one
- Defending champion Sloane Stephens will also return in 2017
- Other names of note include Barbora Strycova, ranked 20th in the world, Kiki Bertens (22), 2016 finalist Julia Goerges, former champion Yanina Wickmayer and Czech Fed Cup winner Lucie Safarova
- New Zealand number one Marina Erakovic will be granted a wildcard if she wants a place at the tournament