Three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova looks like following up her comeback next month in New Zealand with her first start in Sydney after requesting a wild card for the Medibank International being held from January 9.
The newly engaged US-based Russian finished 18th on the WTA for 2010 and last played in China during the first week of October. Now, the winner of Australian and US Open titles plus Wimbledon as a teenager, is trying to re-start a career decimated in recent seasons by a stubborn shoulder injury.
"I received a message from Maria's agent asking if a wild card could be held for her if she decides to play," said tournament director Craig Watson. "I would love to see her in the draw and so would her legion of fans here in Sydney.
"Russian women players have performed incredibly well in Sydney in the past and I believe the court surface and facilities will be of great benefit to Maria as she prepares for the Australian Open."
In 2010, Sharapova won titles in Memphis and Strasbourg and was a finalist at Birmingham, Stanford and Cincinnati. The 23-year-old would be joining another former number one whose game has seen better days.
Serb Ana Ivanovic is a definite entry, with the 2008 French Open winner and top-ranked player two years ago standing one spot higher than Sharapova on 17th. Ivanovic ended 2010 on a high note with a title in Bali last month.
Also included in the women's field: the WTA top three of Caroline Wozniacki, Vera Zvonareva and Kim Clijsters.
In the men's draw, defending champion Marcos Baghdatis heads the draw along with former world number four Juan Del Potro trying for a comeback after a year away with a shoulder injury.