The ASB Classic has yet to get underway but it feels like the stars are already aligning for Serena Williams in Auckland.

The draw, which can always throw out some random combinations, has been particularly kind to the American star. She will face French journeywoman Pauline Parmentier in the first round (most likely on Monday), who shouldn't pose too many threats for the world No2, even with early season rust.

The 35-year-old has also avoided third seed Caroline Wozniacki, with the Danish World No19 being placed in the bottom half of the draw. That means that Serena won't face her sister Venus or Wozniacki before the final, presuming the big guns progress.

Three of the four qualifiers are also in the top half of the field, which looks weaker than the other section with Wozniacki, Venus, Ana Konjuh, Yanina Wickmayer, Kirsten Flipkens and Naomi Osaka.


The Williams sisters will step out on court together today, in a charity exhibition doubles match organised by ASB. It will be hit and giggle stuff, with the American sisters taking on All Black siblings Julian and Ardie Savea, whose tennis skills are a mystery. But it's still significant - a New York Times writer, who has arrived to cover the tournament due to the presence of Serena said the Williams sisters "almost never" play exhibition matches together.

Business time will commence with the tournament proper. Serena has looked remarkably focused since she arrived, completing two lengthy practice sessions as well as gym work within the first 36 hours of being in the country.

Williams has vengeance on her mind for 2017, and it all starts at the ASB Classic. She reached three grand slam finals last year but lost two of them, a poor return by her standards. The defeat to Angelique Kerber in Melbourne last year was probably the biggest shock. It stopped a streak of 15 successive finals win in WTA events, and was also the first grand slam final she had lost since a US Open reverse against Sam Stosur in 2011.

She also had a shock semi-final loss to 10th seed Karolina Pliskova in New York, and was beaten in straight sets in the Roland Garros decider last year by Garbine Muguruza. To put it in perspective, from 2009 to 2015 she only came up short once in the Major final, but last year it happened twice in the space of four months. By her impossibly high standards, she has a lot to prove this year, and that will start with the Australasian swing.

Yesterday Williams took in some sights, spending the afternoon on a private beach on Waiheke Island after being flown there by helicopter. Today she will face the media for the first time since her surprise engagement announcement minutes after arriving in Auckland.

The rest of the first round has thrown up some intriguing encounters. Marina Erakovic will be the underdog against highly rated Jelena Ostapenko (world No44), the Latvian teenager who has already reached two WTA finals. It will be their first encounter but it's a tough draw for Erakovic, as Ostapenko has claimed two top 10 scalps in less than 18 months on tour.

Fellow Kiwi Jade Lewis faces a mission impossible scenario against Venus Williams, while Wozniacki is drawn against American world No76 Nicole Gibbs. Auckland regular Julia Goerges takes on sixth-seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in an appealing encounter while the clash between Ana Konjuh and Kirsten Flipkens could be the game of the round.