The door has been left open for one Kiwi wildcard at Auckland's ATP tournament but Spaniard Tommy Robredo was the surprise package as the full field was unveiled yesterday.
Rubin Statham and Michael Venus may be forced to scrap for a spot at next year's tournament, which features five players ranked inside the world's top 20, with director Karl Budge indicating he would assess their respective form before making a final decision.
"We'll probably look pretty favourably at a Kiwi if we have that choice," Budge said after trumpeting a stronger field than his Sydney rivals.
"We've got to look at that over the next couple of weeks. If I do provide a Kiwi wildcard it will be the last one that we have and we'll offer it just before the tournament. We've got to see how the other guys go. Last year we got pretty close to getting Rafa [Rafael Nadal] because he needed some game time.
"We need to hold that wildcard until the very last minute."
Robredo's participation was exactly that. The former world No 5, who knocked Roger Federer out of this year's US Open, was a late addition which required some late adjustments.
He returns for his fourth stint on the back of reaching the quarterfinals of the French and US Opens and advancing to the third round at Wimbledon.
"We'd done most of our recruiting, pretty much completed our roster, shortly after the US Open," Budge said.
"Tommy reached out at the US Open but at that stage I had no budget. We kept in touch knowing he wanted to be here. We moved things around and thankfully we were able to secure him this week."
Robredo's compatriot, world No 3 David Ferrer, will again be the favourite. He seeks his fifth straight crown, a feat that would see him clinch the outright record in Auckland.
"His loyalty to us is incredible," Budge said. "We're going to have a very difficult time replacing him when the time comes that he doesn't want to come back. He just keeps performing.
"I genuinely hope he gets there and we can have a pretty special moment on court in January."
While Ferrer will be at short-odds, crowds are sure to be entertained by flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils and the fiery temperament of wildcard Marcos Baghdatis.
"He's very much like Monfils," Budge said of the Greek.
"He plays with a lot of passion, a lot of fire. He'll probably break a few racquets and let out a few screams. Win or lose he's one of the great personalities."
Philipp Kohlschreiber (22), Benoit Paire (26), Tommy Haas (12), John Isner (14) and Kevin Anderson (20) will also provide strong competition on centre court from January 6 to 11.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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