PARIS, Oct 26 (Reuters) The return of Roger Federer and the battle for spots at the season-ending Masters Cup will spice up the Paris Masters Series tournament starting on Sunday.
The indoor event, which has suffered in the last few years from the absence of big names, hopes for a new lease of life courtesy of a strong field and a few novelties such as a Sunday start and concerts and shows before the evening sessions.
The tournament started last year without five of the world's top six players after a string of high-profile no-shows.
Neither world number one Federer, who last appeared at the high-tech Bercy hall in 2003, nor world number two Rafael Nadal were there, both pulling out at the last minute.
Federer, who has never gone beyond the quarter-finals of the tournament, will definitely be in the draw and Nadal should be as well despite a knee problem.
The only top player who looked a doubtful starter was American Andy Roddick, who returned to the United States after slumping to a first-round defeat by Frenchman Fabrice Santoro at this week's Lyon Grand Prix.
Like Federer and Nadal, Roddick has already won his ticket to Shanghai for the November. 11-18 Masters Cup, the traditional season finale featuring the world's top eight players.
DOZEN PLAYERS Two other players, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko, last year's Paris Masters winner, have made sure of a trip to China even before the last tournament of the regular season.
More than a dozen players, starting with David Ferrer, Fernando Gonzalez and Tommy Haas, are still in contention for the three remaining berths.
In a bid to boost interest in the Paris event, organisers have opted for a new colour for the showcase court, which will be violet instead of blue, and a new surface, slightly slower and similar to the one in Shanghai.
The best news for the tournament, however, is that Federer will be present.
The elegant Swiss, who definitely has a Paris problem because he has never been able to win the French Open either, will be wanting to finish the year on a high note.
Federer and Nadal will have to keep a close eye on David Nalbandian.
The Argentine looked in devastating form when he clinched his first Masters Series title in Madrid on Sunday with a shock victory over Federer after knocking out Nadal and Djokovic en route to the final.
REUTERS BJR RK1801