Keen fare in offing in Chennai Open

Chennai: Holder and World number 17 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland faces a daunting task to retain his title as the 17th edition of ATP Chennai Open unfolds on Monday, promising a keen tussle among top players.

The Indian interest would revolve around local hero and 2009 finalist Somdev Devvarman, the lone hope in the singles, and the doubles duos of Leander Paes, who has paired with Janko Tipsarevic, and Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna.

Indian wild cards Yuki Bhambri and Vishnu Vardhan have very limited chance of progressing to the second round.

Among the past champions, only Spaniard Carlos Moya and Croat Marin Celic have successfully defended their singles titles as the lone ATP event in South Asia has acquired the reputation of throwing new winners.

Singles top seed and world no.9 Tipsarevic is seen as a clear favourite in the USD 450,000 prize money event promises its share of close matches reflecting the depth in men`s tennis with a cut off rank of 98.

Wawrinka was cautious after the draw yesterday saying the growth of youngsters on the tour has been stronger and none could be sure of remaining in top-20, though the top four have been winning the Grand Slam titles.

Somdev, ranked 84, might run into Wawrinka in the second round if he clears the first round hurdle against French Eric Prodon, placed 13 spots below the Indian in ranking ladder.

Somdev, who had grown up watching stars at Chennai Open, is hoping to do everything to start the season on a good note.

But, the Indian, who made the final here in 2009 as a wildcard, will have to raise his game and not take the first round opponent lightly.

Twice champions Moya and Celic have failed to win the title for a third time. In 2006, Moya was shown the door by Croatian Ivan Ljubicic, pouring cold waters on hat-trick hopes of the Spaniard.

Despite being the hot favourite, Tipsarevic would be aware that seedings do not seem to matter when it comes to the title winner in the Chennai Open.

Only on two occasions, the top seeds -- Guillermo Canas of Argentina in 2002 and Patrick Rafter of Australia in 1998 -- have lived up to their billing.

Other contenders in the main draw would exert every sinew to start the new season on a positive note ahead of the season`s first grand slam Australian Open.

Notable among them are Nicolas Almagro (World No.10) and 20-year old Milos Raonic, a Canadian, who has upstaged many a top rung players in 2011 as he raced to a career high rank of 25 before ending the season at 31 after starting as World No.156.

Raonic, a six-foot, five-inch giant, who migrated to Canada as a three-year old, has represented that country in Davis Cup. He relishes `hard court` play and "strong serves".

Almagro, who has appeared in five finals and won three titles in 2011, is known for `tempering of his character on court` but he has the wherewithal to beat rivals on his day as his reaching top ten ranking in May 2011 indicates.