A galaxy of tennis stars, including Rafael Nadal, David Nalbandian, Carlos Moya, Paradorn Srichaphan and Xavier Malisse, will be vying for the top honours at the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Chennai Open tennis tournament starting in Chennai on Monday.
World No 2 Nadal, French Open champion in 2005 and 2006, will be playing in Chennai for the second time. He played here in 2004 and lifted the doubles title with Tommy Robredo - his first ATP tour title - at the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) Stadium at Nungambakam here.
The presence of Moya, former world No 1, champion in 2004 and 2005 and this year's runner-up, will also make the field very competitive. Defending champion Ivan Ljubucic of Croatia deprived Spaniard Moya, winner of 19 ATP singles championships, of a hat trick of Chennai Open titles early this year.
"In Spain, football is the most popular sport and I do not get as much warmth there as I get here. I have had some memorable performances at Chennai and I hope to continue the same and, hopefully, win my third title," said Moya.
However, the withdrawal of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi from the championship is bound to disappoint fans. Instead, the Indian challenge will be led by wild cards Prakash Amritraj and Karan Rastogi.
While Chennai won't be new for Nadal, Srichaphan, Moya, Santoro and Phau, all having played here before, it will be the first time for Nalbandian, Malisse, Frenchman Nicolas Mahut and Austrian Stefan Koubek.
Nalbandian has been a consistent performer in the ATP circuit since his debut in 2000. He registered the biggest title of his career last year at the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, where he captured the title by winning four of five matches, capped off by overcoming a two-set deficit in victory over No 1 Roger Federer in a fifth set tie-break.
Nalbandian became the first Argentine to win the year-end championships since 1974 when Guillermo Vilas won the Masters title.
Malisse, known for his enormous right-handed forehand and great power, is considered the biggest Belgian tennis talent on the ATP tour.
Mahut and Koubek are the two most consistent and improved performers of the year.
In 2006, Mahut catapulted from 135 to a career high of 61 in September. He is primarily a doubles expert, having won many tournaments with his partner Julien.
Koubek, on the other hand, has moved from the 182nd spot in the rankings at the start of the year to a career-high of 79. This was showcased by a riveting quarterfinal clash at the Kingfisher Open in Mumbai where he upset top-seed Mario Ancic but lost a tough semi-final to Tomas Berdych.
Also to be seen in action is the veteran Frenchman Santoro, who has won the longest singles match in the Open Era history. At the 2004 French Open, he beat fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clement in a first round match that lasted six hours 33 minutes, winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 16-14.
Santoro has been the most successful in doubles. He has twice won the Australian Open doubles title partnering Michael Llodra.