Wellington - Serena Williams will headline the Auckland
Classic in January, organisers said Wednesday, hailing her appearance as a
major coup for the New Zealand tournament.
The 22-time Grand Slam winner has never played in the
January 2-7 tournament before, preferring to warm-up for the Australian Open at
the Hopman Cup in Perth in recent years.
"We are obviously over the moon with this news. Serena
is one of the biggest sporting stars on the planet," tournament director
Karl Budge said.
Williams, the reigning Wimbledon champion, is currently
ranked number two in the world after Angelique Kerber broke her 186-week reign
at the top.
She is likely to regain the number one spot if she can claim
a seventh Australian Open crown at the season-opening Grand Slam in Melbourne.
The 35-year-old American said a good run in Auckland would
set her up well for a tilt at her 23rd major, giving her sole custody of the
Open-era record she currently shares with Steffi Graf.
"(It's) the first event of the year. It can really set
you up for a great run in Melbourne and I will be looking to start my year
strongly in Auckland," she said.
"I am really excited to be coming to Auckland for the
first time. I have heard so many great things about the city and the tournament
itself and I have always wanted to play there."