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Published: Saturday September 22, 2012 MYT 9:31:00 AM

Tennis: Azarenka looks to bounce back in Tokyo

TOKYO: Victoria Azarenka will be hoping to bounce back from her heartbreaking defeat at the US Open final and to cement her place at the top of the world rankings at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo starting Sunday.

The Belarusian, who was left in tears after losing to Serena Williams at Flushing Meadows earlier this month, heads a strong field including Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska, the world numbers two and three.

Of the world's top 20 players, only Williams, who Azarenka described as "the greatest player of all time", is missing from the tournament.

But Azarenka, 23, will still face tough opposition from players like crowd favourite Sharapova, who will be looking to avenge her US Open semi-final defeat and win back a title she held in both 2005 and 2009.

Radwanska returns to the Japanese tournament as the defending champion, after reaching her first Grand Slam final this year at Wimbledon, where she also lost to Williams.

Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion and world number five, will be looking to regain the form she showed earlier in the year when she reached the semi-finals of the Australian and French Open.

Chinese star Li Na and two compatriots will also attend, organisers said, despite tensions between Beijing and Tokyo that have seen players pulling out of badminton and table tennis competitions citing safety fears.

"They are coming," a tournament official said of the trio. "We have not heard otherwise."

While Japan-China ties have soured over a territorial row in the East China Sea, Li's more immediate worry will be her fitness.

Only three weeks ago, the 30-year-old said she needed to take a break from the sport after a shock defeat to British teenager Laura Robson at the US Open.

"I can't go back on the practice court straight away. I have to take some days off otherwise this will kill me," she said. - AFP

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