Wellington, Dec 30:
Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka have been drawn to face each other in a blockbuster first-round clash at the WTA ASB Classic, which starts in Auckland on Monday.
The two former world number ones and tournament draw cards were also joined by Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki in the top quarter of the draw, meaning only one of the big-name trio can make the semi-finals.
Williams, who won the Auckland title three years ago, may be heading into the twilight of her career at 38 but said she was keen to go as far into the tournament as she could.
“I’m looking to win matches here. She is always tough so I’m looking forward to it,” Williams said of her clash with the Belarusian Azarenka, who is nine years her junior.
Williams and Azarenka have faced each other six times, with the American winning the first four and Azarenka the last two.
“It’s exciting for me to play against a champion like Venus,” two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka said.
“It’s the first round, so we’re starting on a high note, but we’ll see.” World number three Wozniacki and defending champion Julia Goerges of Germany head the field, with Wozniacki drawn to play a qualifier in the first round.
Goerges plays Swede Johanna Larsson first and could face a revitalised Eugenie Bouchard in the quarter-finals if both players get that far.
Former Wimbledon finalist Bouchard arrived in Auckland marking 2019 as the year to get her career back on track.
“I feel good,” she said. “There are no guarantees for results but I definitely want to push myself and do whatever I can. I feel like I ended the season well, so I want to bring that momentum into 2019.” Bouchard was at her peak in 2014 when she reached the Wimbledon final as well as the French and Australian Open semi-finals.
But from being a top-10 player, she slumped as low as 194 before starting to fight her way back.
“I feel like I have gone through this rollercoaster of life within my career and I feel like pressure is ultimately just what you put on yourself,” she said.
“So I need to have a clear mind, not put pressure on myself and just try to play free. And you know, who cares what people say?”