One of the most recognisable names in women's tennis has signed on for Auckland's ASB Classic this summer.
Tournament director Karl Budge has unveiled his full field for the tournament beginning on New Year's Eve and it features 24 year old Canadian Eugenie (Genie) Bouchard.
With Budge having earlier announced the return of Grand Slam champions Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka, the addition of the former world number five Wimbledon finalist Bouchard is the biggest talking point of today's full field unveiling.
"Genie is icing on the cake of what is going to be an incredible Women's field this year. Three former world number one's, three grand slam champions, our defending champion and now one of the biggest names in the sport, it is going to be huge" said Tournament Director Karl Budge.
"It will give us an opening round like we've never seen before. We are going to have to split Caroline, Goerges, Venus, Vika and Genie across two sessions. I am not sure we have had star power like that in one session as early as this before".
The former world number one ranked junior played in Auckland as an 18 year old wildcard in 2013 after winning Junior Wimbledon in 2012, and the following year she reached Grand Slam semifinals at the Australian Open and Roland Garros before losing to Petra Kvitova in a one sided Wimbledon final.
But since that breakthrough season Bouchard's stocks have plummeted and her ranking slipped out of the top 100 in January for the first time since 2013. She has fought back to her current position of 88 and is the second to last direct entry into the main draw. It means Budge who would have given her a wildcard, still has a couple up his sleeve with one no doubt reserved for Kiwi Marina Erakovic should she decide she's able to return to tennis following a year out with a back injury.
Bouchard gained worldwide attention in 2016 when with the Atlanta Falcons leading the New England Patriots 21-0 in the Super bowl, she tweeted "I knew Atlanta would win btw". But University of Missouri student John Goehrke tried his luck by asking Bouchard if the Patriots win would she go on a date with him? They did and Bouchard stuck to her promise as the two went to a Brooklyn Nets NBA game and they shared several dates since.
Although Bouchard's endured struggles on the court she has shown signs she is on the way back in the latter part of the season and lost to ASB Classic defending champion Julia Goerges in the semi-finals of the WTA tournament in Luxembourg to end her season last month.
"I am really excited to be coming back to Auckland. I came there when I was very young and remember the water being so beautiful. I would like to see a little more of it this time round but also want to be focusing on my tennis. I felt really strong in my last couple of tournaments and it was nice to reach the semi-finals at the highest level again. I know how to be a top ten player and that will be my goal again in 2019" Bouchard said.
Aside from Bouchard, a host of familiar faces return.
Wozniacki the world number three and Australian Open champion will be the top seed as she chases her first title in Auckland having lost two finals including this year to Goerges. The German ended the year ranked 14th and will be second seed with Taiwan's Su-Wei Hsieh the third seed at 28 in the WTA rankings. Croatian Petra Martic (32) in the 4th seed with another regular visitor to Auckland, Czech Barbora Strycova seeded 5th and ranked 33rd.
Venus Williams returns for a 5th time after missing last year's tournament. The 38 year old will be the 6th seed having dropped to 39 in the rankings. A pair of Belgian's former Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens and Alison Van Uytvanck round out the seeds.
Former world number one Victoria Azarenka will be the dangerous floater in the draw. Ranked 51 and just outside the seeds, the Belarussian is on the comeback trail after resolving a long running custody battle with her former partner over their son Leo.
Other features of the draw are the return of 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig while American Madison Brengle is the last direct acceptance ranked 89. She famously knocked out Serena Williams on her only visit here in 2016.
It's another quality field for the ASB Classic which has stiff competition in the first week of the year up against the WTA Premier tournament the Brisbane International which carries four times the prize money of Auckland, the Shenzhen International in China which has double the prize money and the Hopman Cup team's event in Perth which takes out eight of the world's leading players in the first week of the season.