Much like the Gippsland Trophy and the Yarra Valley Classic, the third WTA 500 tournament before the 2021 Australian Open — the Grampians Trophy — will see some of the tour's biggest stars vying for the title.
The field at the Grampians Trophy is smaller than the other two Melbourne Summer Series events, with only 28 players in the singles main draw. Needless to say, that would make the quality of competition even tougher.
2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu has got top billing at this tournament. World No. 12 Belinda Bencic is the second seed, while the resurgent Victoria Azarenka is the third seed. Russia's Elena Rybakina, seeded fourth, will be among the top contenders for the title as well.
Fifth seed Maria Sakkari will aim to continue her early-season heroics, after having reached the semi-finals at Abu Dhabi last month. Anett Kontaveit, Jennifer Brady, and former Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber have received the sixth, seventh and eighth seedings respectively.
The Grampians Trophy was added to the calendar quite late, in an attempt to give the players facing hard quarantine some match practice. The five-day event will kick off on 2 February, with the grand finale slated to be held on 7 February. Only the top four seeds have been granted a bye in the first round.
With the field featuring a host of Major winners, veterans and upcoming stars, we are in for some enthralling matches at the Grampians Trophy. On that note, let us have an in-depth look at the draw.
Top half: Bianca Andreescu, Victoria Azarenka, Ons Jabeur drawn in the same section
Seeded players: (1) Bianca Andreescu, (3) Victoria Azarenka, (6) Anett Kontaveit, (8) Angelique Kerber
Expected semifinal: Bianca Andreescu vs Victoria Azarenka
Dark horse: Ons Jabeur
Analysis: The top half has two players that the tennis world will be eagerly waiting to watch. To start with, top seed Bianca Andreescu will be seen in action for the first time since the 2019 WTA Finals.
The then 19-year-old Andreescu had stunned Serena Williams in the final of the 2019 US Open, becoming Canada's first-ever singles Grand Slam champion. But she was robbed of an opportunity to build on that big win as a knee injury kept her out for 15 long months.
All eyes will naturally be on the Canadian as she returns to competitive tennis at the Grampians Trophy.
After an opening-round bye, Andreescu is likely to meet fellow Canadian Leylah Fernandez. The 18-year-old Fernandez has been making rapid strides of late, and she finished as the runner-up at Acapulco last year.
Should Andreescu beat her younger compatriot, she could have Ons Jabeur standing in her way.
Jabeur is coming off a career-best season in which she made five quarter-finals. Currently perched at a career-high ranking of No. 30, the Tunisian will be hungry to get deep into the draw after having lost in the Round of 16 at Abu Dhabi.
Jabeur, who might have to contend with former Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in the second round, will likely present a stern test for Andreescu. Her mix of power and finesse will give the Canadian quite a few things to think about.
The draw gets tougher for Andreescu after that, as awaiting her next will likely be two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. The former World No. 1 would be hoping to replicate her efforts from last season, which saw her win at Cincinnati and reach the finals at the US Open and Ostrava.
After a first-round bye, Azarenka could start her campaign against the talented Yulia Putintseva in the second round. Putintseva won a couple of rounds at Abu Dhabi, and Azarenka would have to be at or close to her best to get past the Kazakh.
Sixth seed Anett Kontaveit will likely be another tricky opponent for Azarenka. If she can successfully negotiate these dangers, the Belarusian could find herself facing Andreescu or Jabeur in the semifinals.
Semifinal prediction: Ons Jabeur vs Victoria Azarenka
Bottom half: Belinda Bencic, Elena Rybakina and Maria Sakkari battle for supremacy
Seeded players: (2) Belinda Bencic, (4) Elena Rybakina, (5) Maria Sakkari, (7) Jennifer Brady
Expected semifinal: Belinda Bencic vs Elena Rybakina
Dark horse: Maria Sakkari
Analysis: The bottom half at the Grampians Trophy is chock full of contenders. That also makes it wide open; there are a lot of players who have the chance of making the final from this section.
Belinda Bencic is the top seed here, but her place in the summit clash is far from guaranteed. The Swiss wrapped up her 2020 season after an early loss at Rome, and her lack of match practice could work against her in Melbourne.
Bencic is most likely to start her campaign against World No. 72 Sorana Cirstea, who ended 2020 with the ITF 100,000 title at Dubai. If she wins that, Bencic could come up against either of two in-form players - Maria Sakkari or Veronika Kudermetova.
Both Sakkari and Kudermetova dazzled in Abu Dhabi last month; while Kudermetova reached the final, Sakkari made it to the last four. Sakkari has actually been a model of consistency over the whole of last year, and has been to the semis of her last two tournaments. The powerful World No. 22 might just prove to be too hot to handle for Bencic.
The other quarter in this half has the fourth seed Elena Rybakina, seventh seed Jennifer Brady and rising star Marta Kostyuk. Rybakina started the year well with a quarter-final appearance at Abu Dhabi, and at the Grampians Trophy she will need to see off the challenge of Brady or Kostyuk in the quarterfinals.
Kostyuk made a sensational run to the semis in Abu Dhabi, giving a terrific exhibition of her immense talent. The 18-year-old seems primed for another scintillating show ahead of the Australian Open - especially if the likes of Brady and Rybakina are not at their best.
Semifinal prediction: Maria Sakkari vs Marta Kostyuk
Prediction for final
Victoria Azarenka vs Maria Sakkari