Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka to compete in Australian Open warm-up events

<p>Ashleigh Barty will return to the court later this month&nbsp;</p>

Ashleigh Barty will return to the court later this month 

(Steven Paston/PA)
22:56pm, Fri 08 Jan 2021
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World No 1 Ashleigh Barty is set to return to tour after almost a year as she prepares to headline one of two WTA events at Melbourne Park ahead of the Australian Open. 

The 24 year-old Australian has not played competitive tennis since February due to the coronavirus pandemic, but will now return to compete in either the Gippsland Trophy or the Yarra Valley Classic as part of the Melbourne Summer Series.

The two events will begin at the end of the month and will finish on February 6 in time for the first major of the year two days later. 

The events will see the world’s top players compete, including 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, world No 2 Simona Halep and world No 3 Naomi Osaka, who will all be starting their 2021 campaign. 

Defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin is also set to take part in the series which has been named to promote key regions of Victoria following last year’s bushfires and the coronavirus crisis. 

Each WTA 500 tournament will feature a 64-player draw, with the top 32-ranked players to be split across the two events. The remaining players will be randomly drawn. 

Tennis Australia Head of Major Events Cameron Pearson said: "There’s no doubt this will be an historic week of tennis, and is the biggest-ever AO lead-in week we have seen in Australia.

“While we know the circumstances are unique this year, it is a huge coup to secure such strong playing fields. I hope fans, whether onsite or watching at home, will embrace what will be a high quality week of events.”

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