Top guns all confirm for Australian Open

MELBOURNE (AFP) – All the world’s top 50 men and women players, bar Victoria Azarenka, have confirmed they will start the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the season, at Melbourne Park in January, organisers said yesterday.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal and Ashleigh Barty lead the field at the 115th edition of the tournament from January 20-February 7, which will mark the return to action of former world number three Juan Martin del Potro.

The Argentinian has a protected ranking of 22 as he makes a comeback from a six-month injury break.

Seven-time winner Serena Williams will play as she targets an elusive 24th Grand Slam title to match the all-time haul of Margaret Court.

The controversial Australian, who has upset some players with her views on controversial issues, will be honoured during the tournament to mark the 50th anniversary of her calendar-year Grand Slam.

Williams’ 39-year-old sister Venus will also be back for another year.

Missing among the top 50 is two-time champion Azarenka, who withdrew prior to the entry deadline Saturday for unspecified reasons.