Nadal heads a rich field as top seed

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Chennai, Dec 30 (UNI) McDowell Open (1996), Gold Flake Open (1997), Tata Open (2002) and Chennai Open 2005), the latest incarnation of the only ATP World Tour event in South Asia, being hosted in this cradle city of Indian tennis will be back again at the picturesque Nungambakkam stadium from tomorrow to January 6, with a richer field headed by World number 2 Spaniard Rafael Nadal, but with a weak Indian challenge again.

The current heroes of Indian tennis, Davis Cuppers and former Grand Slam title winning doubles pair, have preferred to stay away this year also and the tennis buffs here would only have to remain content recalling the fact that it was on the centre court of this championship that they had blossomed into a winning combination on the world stage.

However, as touted at the draw ceremony here, the singles field with the likes of three times champion here, Spain's Carlos Moya, Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis the attacking and exciting Russian Mikhail Youzhny and Frenchman Nicholas Mahout are enough recompense for the absence of any Indian star.

The defending champion in Chennai Open Belgian Xavier Mallsse, seeded low with his current world ranking of 112, will have a tough time kicking off the new season, defending his title including the doubles crown he had won last year on these courts.

Nadal is fresh from a great year crowned by his rivalry against the peerless world number 1 Roger Federer, Moya trying to get back into limelight on the tour and preventing Malisse from erasing his record of being the only player to have defended his title in the Chennai and more than anything else, Youzhny hungry to restore his reputation and the past world ranking in the top 10.

He is now number 19 in the world. ''I want to win every match and go up the ladder again,'' he told the media here.

Marcos Baghdatis, the 2006 Australian Open runner up is also gearing himself up to break into the top ten and focus on improving his fitness.

The field is deep and the draw well spread out with the top seeds like Nadal having an easy opener but bumping into tough rival from the third round, Indian ace Vijay Amritraj says.

However, both Prakash Amritraj and the new national grass court champion Vishnu Vardhan of Andhra Pradesh, will have to play some great tennis if they are to get past the first round. Both have been given wild card entries into the main draw. In the doubles Prakash has been paired with cousin Stephen Amritraj. The other Indians in the doubles and the singles, if the three survivors in the qualifying round manage to make it to the main round as qualifiers, will have a baptism by fire virtually in the ATP world stage.

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