MELBOURNE • Australian Open organisers said yesterday that they were hopeful of a stunning return by new mum Serena Williams in January as they increased the winner's purse to A$4 million (S$4.2 million).
Injured former world No. 1 players Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, along with Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka, are set to be back in action in time for the season's opening Grand Slam in January.
Williams won this year's Australian Open while pregnant, and she has spoken of her "outrageous" plans to play in Melbourne next year - just 41/2 months after giving birth to her daughter.
Tournament director Craig Tiley said all 100 top men and women had confirmed they intended to play in Melbourne - including Williams, who is currently ranked 24th.
He added that the 36-year-old's mind was firmly fixed on the tournament, which coincidentally has the same initials as her daughter, Alexis Olympia.
"Her baby's initials are AO and she's suggested she should also have her name on the 2017 trophy, so the AO is well and truly top of (her) mind at the moment," he said at the event's official launch in Melbourne.
"If anyone can do it, she can and I'm certainly not counting her out of a return come January."
Roger Federer marked a stunning comeback from injury by beating old rival Rafael Nadal to win his 18th Grand Slam in an epic five-set Melbourne final this year, while Serena beat her sister, Venus, in the women's decider.
Federer and Nadal ended up with two Grand Slam titles each this year, while the women had four different champions - Williams, Jelena Ostapenko (French Open), Garbine Muguruza (Wimbledon), and Sloane Stephens (US Open).
Tiley added that it was shaping up as a fascinating men's tournament with Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka and Nishikori all returning, but with lower rankings.
"I'm sure they are all inspired by what Roger and Rafa achieved here in January, and what they've gone on to achieve - splitting the Grand Slam titles between them this year," he said.
The men's and women's champions in Melbourne next year will each walk away with A$4 million, an increase of A$300,000 on this year's winnings.
The total purse has risen 10 per cent to A$55 million.