In qualifying fields laced with impressive talent, 224 players across the men’s and women’s draws will battle it out for their place in the main draw at Australian Open 2014.
Of particular interest is the women’s draw, stacked full of former top stars all looking to make their way back after various recent setbacks.
In a 96-player field headed by 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, Alisa Kleybanova will continue her heart-warming return to the tour after a lengthy battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The Russian, who reached the Australian Open 2009 fourth round before losing a classic battle against Jelena Dokic under lights at Rod Laver Arena, missed almost two years of competition due to the illness. With her ranking dipping outside the top 500 in late 2012, the former world No.20 returned to the ITF circuit in May this year and made impressive strides, winning 14 of 16 matches before focusing on WTA events.
Now ranked 183rd, the Russian will aim to maintain her upward trajectory when she arrives at Melbourne Park for the qualifying event.
Standing in her way could be one of several highly-credentialed opponents.
These include young Brit Heather Watson, once ranked as high as No.39 but down to No.121 after a season marred by glandular fever. Also in the draw are former world No.15 and 2010 Madrid Masters champion Aravane Rezai, 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, and former top 30 players Petra Cetkovska and Tamira Paszek.
A number of exciting young guns will offer fans a glimpse of the future of women’s tennis, a group led by American Victoria Duval – the 18-year-old who sensationally upset Sam Stosur in the opening round of this year’s US Open – and Belinda Bencic, the 2013 junior World Champion who won the girls’ titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
On the men’s side, the 128-player draw features an exciting combination of emerging stars and talented veterans.
Heading the field is world No.105 Michael Llodra of France, the extraordinary shot-maker whose left-handed serve-and-volley style has carried him as high as world No.21 (in 2011) and to five singles titles throughout his impressive 15-year pro career.
Dustin Brown will be one to watch, the exciting German of Jamaican decsent whose acrobatic game and dreadlocked style lit up the All England Club in 2013 when he won through to the third round as a qualifier.
A pair of rising talent in David Goffin and Ricardis Berankis will also take their place in the draw; Goffin, of Belgium, cracked the top 50 in 2012 after reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros and third round at Wimbledon that year, while Lithuania’s Berankis, a former junior world No.1, has reached the third round at Melbourne Park in both 2011 and 2013 and has been ranked as high as No.67.
China’s Ze Zhang will also generate plenty of interest among fans; the 23-year-old burst to prominence in late 2012 with his quarterfinal run at the ATP China Open – which included a defeat of then 14th-ranked Richard Gasquet – and he is currently the second-highest ranked Chinese male behind Wu Di, a wildcard entrant into the AO 2014 main draw.
The Australian Open qualifying events will be held at Melbourne Park on 8-11 January and are free for the public to attend.