An Auckland summer of tennis in need of a bit of star quality has received a nice little dollop, with colourful Frenchman Gael Monfils accepting a wildcard entry into the Heineken Open.
Monfils is one of four former top 10 players in the field, joining world number five David Ferrer, former world number two Tommy Haas and former world number eight Jurgen Melzer.
The 26-year-old has won four ATP titles, made 13 finals and has consistently ranked inside the top 20 since 2008. He is a former Wimbledon, Roland Garros and Australian Open junior champion and has reached two Masters finals. However, the former world number seven has battled knee injuries this season, with his ranking plummeting to 77.
It will be his second visit to Auckland. In 2007 he went out in the first round via a straight sets defeat at the hands of Spaniard Alberto Martin.
"When we named the full field a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to see the ranking cut off as low as 61," tournament director Karl Budge said. "Adding Monfils to that lineup is the icing on the cake. He is often described as the player, outside the big four, who has the game to win a Grand Slam. And we all know what an entertainer he is.
"He loves to play up to the crowd."
The former French junior 100m champion started 2012 strongly, reaching the final in Doha after beating Nadal in the semifinals. He went on to the third round at the Australian Open and reached the Montpellier final in February before losing to Tomas Berdych.
This week Budge gave his first wildcard to this year's finalist Olivier Rochus. He has one more wildcard to allocate. Defending champion Ferrer (Spain) is the tournament's top seed followed by Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber (20), Haas (21), USA's Sam Querrey (22), Poland's Jerzy Janowicz (26), Austria's Melzer (29) and ATP newcomer of the year Martin Klizan of Slovakia (30).
The Heineken Open runs from January 7-12. Qualifying is on January 5 and 6 at the North Harbour Tennis Centre in Albany.