Azarenka, Sharapova, Serena headline Stanford

Stanford (California): Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova head the field for the WTA hardcourt tournament that starts on Monday with Serena Williams lurking dangerously as her injury comeback continues.

Eight of the world`s top 20 will take part in the WTA Tour`s first premier level tournament since Wimbledon, which marks the start of the women`s build-up on American hardcourts to the US Open.

Belarusian Azarenka and Russian Sharapova, ranked four and five in the world, are the top two seeds.

They`ll be vying to reprise their meeting in the final last year, when Azarenka triumphed for the title.

Both arrive in northern California fresh from strong runs at Wimbledon, where Sharapova fell in the final to Petra Kvitova but said her first appearance in seven years in the All England Club final was proof that the injury-plagued years which threatened to derail her glittering career are behind her.

Azarenka was also a victim of Kvitova at Wimbledon, falling to the 21-year-old Czech in the semifinals.

Williams doesn`t figure among the seeds, her ranking having plummeted due to a series of health issues ranging from a cut foot that required surgery to life-threatening blood clots.

The 13-time Grand Slam champion received a wild card into the event, part of her build-up to the US Open starting on August 29, where she gained entry to the field using her injury-protected special ranking.

Wimbledon was just her second tournament back after an injury layoff of 11 months and she was ousted in the fourth round, an exit that triggered the massive drop in her world ranking.

Williams opens her Stanford campaign against Anastasia Rodionova, with the winner playing either sixth seed Julia Goerges or Maria Kirilenko.

Ninth-ranked Marion Bartoli and number 10 Samantha Stosur of Australia are the third and fourth seeds, and all the top four have first-round byes.

"It`s a tough field," Bartoli said. "There`s Sharapova. Azarenka won it last year.”

Bartoli won the Stanford title in 2009, beating Venus Williams in the final.

The Frenchwoman, who reached the semifinals at Roland Garros before her quarterfinal run at Wimbledon, sees no reason she can`t reprise her 2009 success.

"My strength is between my ears," Bartoli said. "I`m a fighter and I don`t give up easily."

Agnieszka Radwanska, Goerges, Ana Ivanovic and Dominika Cibulkova round out the top eight seeds.

Bureau Report

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