Chennai: Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka kickstarts preparations for the year`s first Grand Slam with his now customary stop-over in India to play in the ATP Chennai Open starting on Monday.
The Swiss world number four makes his seventh appearance in the southern Indian city, this time as the defending champion of the $450,000 tournament at the Nungambakkam tennis stadium.
Wawrinka`s victory in Chennai last year sparked an incredible run when he defeated Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and then upset top seed Rafael Nadal in the final to clinch his first Grand Slam title.
The 29-year-old ended the year by leading Switzerland to their maiden Davis Cup crown, having beaten French number one Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the opening day before partnering Roger Federer to victory in the doubles.
"I like Chennai very much," Wawrinka was quoted as saying in a news release by the organisers. "The atmosphere is always great and the fans are amazing, that`s why I keep coming back.
"The tournament was a great start to an amazing year in 2014 and I hope that it will be the same in the new year."
Wawrinka, who will defend his Australian Open title in Melbourne from January 19, said he had not set specific goals for 2015 other than staying fit and playing a consistent game on all surfaces.
"I want to play well and win titles at all levels," he said.
In Chennai, Wawrinka faces a strong challenge from a predominantly Spanish field that includes world number 14 Feliciano Lopez, number 15 Roberto Bautista-Agut, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Marcel Granollers.
Other leading contenders are Belgium`s David Goffin, Luxembourg`s Gilles Muller, Taiwanese veteran Yen-Hsun Lu and 2014 runners-up Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France.The big-serving Lopez made a huge impression in 2014 when he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon where he lost to Wawrinka. Lopez also made the third round of the US Open for a fifth straight year and beat Nadal at the Shanghai Masters.
Bautista-Agut won the ATP`s most improved player of the year award by rising from number 59 to 15 in the rankings in 2014. He also scalped world number five Juan Martin del Potro in the second round of the Australian Open.
Goffin, 24, was voted the ATP`s comeback player of 2014 after returning from a wrist injury to gallop from 110 to world number 22 by the end of the year, in which he won his first two titles.
The top four seeds -- Wawrinka, Lopez, Bautista-Agut and Goffin -- have received a bye in the first round of the 32-man field. The champion will pocket $73,400 and 250 ranking points.
India`s number one Somdev Devvarman, ranked 139th in the world, will spearhead the local challenge after being handed a wild card by the organisers.
1. Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)
2. Feliciano Lopez (ESP)
3. Roberto Bautista-Agut (ESP)
4. David Goffin (BEL)
5. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP)
6. Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE)
7. Marcel Granollers (ESP)
8. Gilles Muller (LUX)