Maria Sharapova returns to Tokyo to support Pan Pacific title

Defending champion Maria Sharapova of Russia will be among the favorites at the Pan Pacific tournament this week but she'll have to contend with a resurgent Martina Hingis, who has a long history of success here. Sharapova, who lost to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the semifinals of the Australian Open, defeated American Lindsay Davenport in last year's final.

"Women's tennis is at such a high level now that any of the top 10 or 20 players could give me a tough match," said Sharapova. "Martina is on her comeback and no doubt will reach the top again but I don't have a specific rival here."

Currently fourth in the WTA rankings, Sharapova enters the US$1.3 million (1.07 million euros) tournament as the top-seeded player. Davenport was forced to pull out due to injury.

Russia's Elena Dementieva is the tournament's second-seeded player while Hingis arrives as a wild card. In Australia, Hingis made a successful return to Grand Slam tennis, reaching the singles quarterfinals before losing to World No. 1 Kim Clijsters.

Hingis will be making her first appearance in this tournament in four years. Along with Davenport, Hingis, who is making a comeback after a three-year retirement, has won this event four times.

"I played some good tennis in Australia and it's good to be back in Tokyo," said Hingis. "It's a new week against new opponents and we're all aiming to be the best."

Japanese fans will be looking for strong performances from Ai Sugiyama and Shinobu Asagoe. Other players taking part include third-seeded Nathalie Dechy of France and No. 4 Anastasia Myskina of Russia.

The Pan Pacific is a WTA tier 1 event played on a fast indoor court, reports the AP.


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