Brisbane International organisers face a tough call on the final spots in a bumper men's draw after four of Australia's brightest prospects missed the cut for automatic entry.
Fields were announced on Wednesday, with the surging world No.40 Alexei Popyrin, Max Purcell (45) and Jordan Thompson (55) the three Australian men guaranteed to feature in the event, which begins on December 31.
But in a nod to the depth of the reinstalled tournament - and the rude health of Australian men's tennis - Aleksandar Vukic (62), Thanasi Kokkinakis (65), Chris O'Connell (68) and Rinky Hijikata (71) all narrowly missed the top-60 cut line.
Returning great Rafael Nadal, officially ranked 664 in the world after almost a year off the circuit recovering from hip surgery, has taken one of three wildcards on offer.
World No.2 Carlos Alcaraz will not play in Brisbane, with Holger Rune (8) the highest-ranked male in the field and three-time grand slam champion Andy Murray (42) adding considerable punch.
Former Brisbane champion Nick Kyrgios remains in the reckoning for a wildcard as he recovers from the injuries that restricted him to just one match this year.
Alex de Minaur and John Millman will represent Australia at the United Cup, which runs concurrently with the Brisbane International in Sydney and Perth.
That leaves a quartet of in-form Australian men fighting for potentially just one wildcard, with a hazardous two-match journey through qualifying the only other route to the key Australian Open warmup event.
Hijikata, 22, made the fourth round of the US Open this year, Vukic made the Atlanta Open final and O'Connell reached the third round of Wimbledon, a feat matched by Kokkinakis at Roland Garros.
"What a great field we've got; it's the strongest Brisbane International field we've ever had," tournament director Cam Pearson said.
"The men's cut is 60 ... the draw's so strong we thought another four Australians were going to join them but in the last couple of days the cut just went lower and lower."
Nine grand slam champions will begin their season in Brisbane, with Nadal and Naomi Osaka - on the comeback trail after the birth of her first child - the headline acts.
Reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, along with Elena Rybakina, Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens complete a stacked women's draw.
World No.14 and 2017 Brisbane champion Grigor Dimitrov, Ben Shelton (17) and Ugo Humbert (20) further bolster the men's draw.
Queensland's Kimberly Birrell joins Osaka with a women's wildcard, the thankful world No.113 enjoying a 'full-circle' moment after working on the event's media team in 2020 while injured and contemplating her on-court future.
A year earlier she had beaten Daria Kasatkina to claim her first top-10 scalp, before reaching the Australian Open third round.
"It'd be a dream to play one of the girls in the top-10 again," Birrell said.
"I had my elbow surgery, out for a couple of years after having a run in 2019.
"It feels like a distant memory ... I didn't know where I was going to go with my tennis journey."
Australian Associated Press