Samantha Stosur has avoided a first-round seed but there’s danger at every other turn for the Australian No.1 at the star-studded Sydney International.
Stosur faces Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in search of her first win of the summer after suffering a tough three-set loss in Brisbane to French Open champion Garbine Muguruza.
Victory over Pavlyuchenkova would thrust Stosur into a likely second-round showdown with fellow Russian and defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Fifth-seeded Kuznetsova is fancied to beat Irina-Camelia Begu in her opener.
Stosur and unseeded Daria Gavrilova – who drew a qualifier at Saturday’s draw at Olympic Park – are the only two Australians featuring in a cut-throat 28-strong field featuring six of the world’s top 10 players.
The top two seeds – including world No.1 and reigning Australian Open and US Open champion Angelique Kerber – enjoy first-round byes.
Desperate for match practice ahead of her 15th Australian Open campaign, Stosur’s other chief threats in a challenging quarter of the draw include 2014 Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova, former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard and rising Chinese star Zhang Shaui.
Fresh off a confidence-boosting win over big-hitting American Coco Vandeweghe at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Gavrilova could run into British eighth seed Joanna Konta if she makes the second round.
Bound for her first grand slam seeding at Melbourne Park, the 25th-ranked Gavrilova landed in Kerber’s quarter, leaving the two on course for a possible last-eight rematch.
Gavrilova thumped Kerber 6-3 6-1 in Hong Kong in October during the 22-year-old’s blazing end to 2016 and would relish another shot at tennis’s new queen of the court.
Like Kerber, second seed Agnieszka Radwanska has a first-round bye.
Third seed Cibulkova plays Laura Siegemund, while fourth-seeded US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova meets Sloane Stephens.
In one of the most testing openers, Olympic champion Monica Puig presents a problem for seventh seed and Australian Open dark horse Elina Svitolina.