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Australian Open 2016: Sydney and Brisbane Internationals among tournament lead-up highlights

THE 2016 Australian Open is fast approaching, with the tennis world preparing to descend on Melbourne en masse for the first grand slam of the year.
But while the January 18 to 31 tournament is the undoubted highlight of the month-long Australian tournament swing, it doesn’t mean other cities are left out.
Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Hobart all have vital lead-ups with confirmed quality fields.
Throw in Auckland — and Doha and Shenzhen for that matter — and there is plenty to view in January for the discerning sports fan.
Here are the lead-up tournaments in Australia and New Zealand.
Hopman Cup
Where
It’s been a staple diet of the Perth summer set for 28 years. Rumours whirled a few years back of its demise but after 25 years at the Burswood Dome, it has found a new home at the Perth Arena.
When
It once graced the back-end of the Christmas break and was even played on New Year’s Eve, but it’s now settled into an early January role. Next year the dates have been set from January 3 to 9.
Format
A mini mixed version of the Davis Cup and Fed Cup, but also without the nationalistic fervour — unless you are an Aussie fan out west. A tie starts with the women’s singles before the men get their turn. The mixed doubles rounds off the evening. Eight teams are split into two groups play a round-robin format before the top two qualify for the final.
How long has it been played?
It first graced the Australian Open warm-up trail in 1989. The winners 27 editions ago were the Czechoslovakian team of Miloslav Mecir and Helena Sukova who beat Australia’s Pat Cash and Hana Mandlikova in the final.
Who were the 2015 champions?
Poland followed up their runners up showing in 2014 with a 2-1 final win over the USA. But the winning team of Jerzy Janowicz and Agnieszka Radwanska won’t be back in 2016. They are taking a different Australian Open route in 2016.
Who usually plays?
There has been no shortage of star power over the years — although the quality of the 2016 edition leaves a little to be desired. Serena Williams has been a regular visitor while Petra Kvitova, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles and Ana Ivanovic have all entertained. On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, John Isner, Boris Becker and Richard Gasquet have used it as a stopover in the chase for greater glory in Melbourne.
Who’s coming?
Players representing Czech Republic, USA, Ukraine, Great Britain, Germany and France join two Aussie teams. Andy Murray and Serena Williams are the headline acts. Lucie Safarova and Sabine Lisicki are the other top women. Gael Monfils and Jack Sock give the men a lift.
Why are there two Australian teams?
Good question! Maybe organisers were fans of the cricket Tri-Series experiment with Australia A in the mid-1990s. It certainly gives the hosts a better chance of breaking their tournament duck. Just out of interests sake, that 1994-95 cricket season saw both Aussie teams advance to the final.
Why should we watch?
If for nothing else, it begins the grand farewell tour of Lleyton Hewitt. He partners Casey Dellacqua for the golden Aussies while environmentally-sound green Australia has Nick Kyrgios and Daria Gavrilova. 
Brisbane International
Where
No better way for players to acclimatise to the Aussie summer heat than an early January visit to steamy Brisbane. The hardcourts at the Queensland Tennis Centre are a tough test for legs fresh off a lengthy end-of-season break.
When
Just enough time for some New Year’s celebrations before play kicks/hits off on January 4. The northern festivities run through to January 11.
Why is it unique?
It’s one of the few tournaments around the world that caters for separate men’s and women’s draws. The women play for a purse in excess of $1 million, thus the better field. The men may only play for a little over $400,000, but that hasn’t stopped the likes of Federer and Murray playing in recent years.
How long has it been played?
Brisbane evolved out of combining the men’s tournament in Adelaide and women’s equivalent on the Gold Coast in 2009. The women’s tournament was upgraded to a Premier event in 2012. Radek Stepanek and Victoria Azarenka were the inaugural winners seven years ago.
How do the Aussies go?
Back in the day an Australian men’s title winner was commonplace. But more recently, outside of Lleyton Hewitt, it’s been slim pickings. The 34-year-old has won three editions, two in Adelaide in 1998 and 2000 and the stunning upset of Roger Federer two years ago. He won’t be around this time though as his farewell tour takes in Perth on the same dates. Mark Philippoussis was beaten in the 2002 final by Tim Henman. Three Aussies made the quarter-finals last year — James Duckworth, Sam Groth and Bernard Tomic.
Stosur reached the final of this event when it was on the Gold Coast in 2005, losing to Patty Schnyder, but she hasn’t had much success since, even bowing out in the first round last year. Stosur and Jamila Gajdosova were the only Aussies in the main draw in 2015.
Who were the 2015 champions?
Maria Sharapova saw off the challenge of Ana Ivanovic in three sets while Roger Federer edged out Milos Raonic to take the men’s title. Both superstars will be back again for the next instatement.
Who is coming in 2016?
The women’s draw features nine of the top 20 and is headlined by Sharapova and world No. 2 Simona Halep. Young guns Garbine Muguruza and Belinda Bencic join her, as do Angelique. Kerber and Victoria Azarenka. And it’s also the starting point for Aussie hope Samantha Stosur.
Federer is the main drawcard on the men’s side but the field is full of some of the most exciting young players in the game. Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, David Goffin and Grigor Dimitrov will all offer stiff opposition. And then there is the local presence headlined by Bernard Tomic, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Sam Groth.
Why should we watch?
The women’s draw is top quality. Could it be the final time Samantha Stosur is on show in her home state? Any chance to see Federer in action has to be worth the price of admission while it will be interesting to see how the Aussie men match up in a field they should do well in. 
Hobart International
Where
The WTA don’t get any further south than this. The Domain Tennis Centre just a short distance from the Hobart city centre and is certainly a popular stopover a week out from the Australian Open.
When
The big names may head to Sydney at the same time but that doesn’t mean there is no shortage of quality. First games on are January 10 with the final six days later.
How long has it been played?
The tournament was elevated to International status in 1994. Japan’s Mana Endo won that first event over Australia’s Rachel McQuillan.
It has some pretty impressive names on the honour roll, from Patty Schnyder to Kim Clijsters, Petra Kvitova and current world No. 3 Garbine Mugurza.
Who won it in 2015?
Britain’s big year of tennis results began with Heather Watson’s surprise win. The then-22 year-old proved too strong for rising American star Madison Brengle in straight sets. Both players will be returning in 2016.
Who is coming in 2016?
In a huge coup for the tournament, Eugenie Bouchard has confirmed she will be playing as part of her comeback from long-term injury. American Sloane Stephens will be the top seed while Dominika Cibulkova and Barbora Strycova are other notables.
How do the Aussies go?
There have been two local tournament winners over the years. Alicia Molik beat American Amy Frazier in 2003 while Jarmila Groth (Gajdosova) triumphed eight years later. Casey Dellacqua was the top seed in 2015 but was knocked out in the second round.
Why we should be watching?
If Bouchard’s presence isn’t enough to draw you in, then perhaps taking in some quality women’s tennis with the Derwent River and Mount Wellington as backdrops might be tempting.
ASB Classic (women)
Where
Auckland
When
January 4 to 9
Defending champion is?
Venus Williams upstaged Caroline Wozniacki to make up for her 2014 final defeat to Ana Ivanovic.
Who’s coming in 2016?
It’s a quality women’s field. Venus is coming back, as are Wozniacki and Ivanovic. Svetlana Kuznetsova completes a pretty classy top four.
Petra Kvitova is returning to defend her Sydney title.Source:Getty Images
Sydney International
Where
One of the oldest tournaments in the world, it’s been at its current home at Sydney Olympic Park in Homebush since 1999. For the previous 77 years it was — in guises from the Championship of NSW to the NSW Open — held at White City.
When
It’s the week before the Australian Open — January 10 to 16 — and the strength of the women’s field, in particular, so early in the year shows just how important the tournament is as a grand slam lead-up.
How long has it been played?
Remember when Annie Lamb won the first tournament? No, well, it’s hardly surprising. It was 1885. The men’s winner that year was one William J Bush Salmon. The first winners upon relocation to Homebush were Amelie Mauresmo and Lleyton Hewitt.
Who won it in 2015?
Petra Kvitova is the defending champion after her narrow win over Karolina Pliskova. Both players are returning for another title in 2016. The men’s version was won by Victor Troicki who beat Mikhail Kukushkin.
How good has it been as an Australian Open guide?
Sydney has in recent years proven the ideal warm-up for greater glory in Melbourne. Kvitova was knocked out in the third round in Melbourne last year and 2014 winner Tsvetana Pironkova was hammered in the second round, but Agnieszka Radwanska, who won the 2013 Sydney event, reached the quarter-finals. Victoria Azarenka pulled off the double in 2012 while Li Na go close but narrowly lost in Kim Clijsters in the Melbourne final of 2011.
Who’s coming in 2016?
It’s quite the line-up of female talent. Simona Halep is the top seed while Kvitova, Radwanska,
Caroline Wozniacki, Flavia Pennetta, Garbine Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, Sabine Lisicki and Andrea Petkovic.
The star power is not there on the men’s side but Australia will have the top seed in Bernard Tomic. Fabio Fognini, David Goffin, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Nick Kyrgios, Sam Groth and
Juan Martin de Potro are also playing.
How do the Aussies go?
Much tougher for the women considering the class of opponent — although Sam Stosur reached the final in 2005 only to be upstaged by fellow Aussie Alicia Molik. Stosur and Jamila Gajdosova were the only Aussies in it last year.
The men have fared much better. Tomic won his maiden ATP Tour event in Sydney three years ago and was runner-up to Del Potro 12 months later. Hewitt won it four times (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005).

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