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Four world top-10 players are back to battle for the title at Bank of the West Classic

 

The defending champ is back. So, too, is the 2010 runner-up. There are past champs and runner-ups, as well, along with a handful of the world's top-ranked players this year.

Once again, the field will be solid when the 2011 Bank of the West Classic returns to Stanford's Taube Family Tennis Stadium for its 41st annual event from July 25-31.

With four top-10 players committed, the 2011 acceptance list proves to be one of the most impressive yet and includes 11 players ranked within the top 30 in the world.

Highlighting next month's field will be 13-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, defending champion Victoria Azarenka, 2011 French Open semifinalist Marion Bartoli, world No. 10 Samantha Stosur, and former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.

Sharapova, a finalist at last year's Bank of the West Classic, returns with hopes to reaching the final once again. This year the Russian superstar captured her 23rd WTA singles title in Rome and looks to be returning to the form that helped her win three Grand Slam titles. As a three-time Grand Slam champion and world No. 6, Sharapova is a fan favorite and will undoubtedly bring excitement to this year's player field.

The commitment of Williams further adds to the class of this year's top player field. This will mark Williams' third appearance at the Bank of the West Classic, after reaching the semifinals of the tournament in 2009.

Williams, who has been sidelined nearly a year with injuries, returned to action Tuesday and won her opening match at the grass-court tournament in Eastbourne, England, a tuneup for Wimbledon. Williams beat Tsvetana Pironkova, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Williams hasn't played since last July after cutting her foot on glass at a restaurant after winning Wimbledon. She underwent two foot surgeries and later had a blood clot in her lungs.

Hoping to defend her 2010 singles title, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka will arrive at the Bank of the West Classic having already won two singles titles this year at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami and on the clay courts in Marbella, Spain. In 2010, the day after her 21st birthday, Azarenka defeated Sharapova to clinch the Bank of the West Classic singles title and earned herself a memorable birthday present.

Also returning will be current world No. 9 Bartoli and No. 10 Stosur. Bartoli, champion of the 2009 Bank of the West Classic, arrives with her sights set on another title run after reaching the semifinals of the French Open earlier this year, as well as the finals of both Indian Wells and Strasbourg. Stosur, who reached the finals at Rome earlier this year, advanced to the semis at last year's Bank of the West Classic.

The tournament also welcomes former world No. 1 Ivanovic. The young Serbian star has a Grand Slam title under her belt having won the 2008 French Open and is a two-time Grand Slam finalist. With the addition of Ivanovic, the tournament will host three total former No. 1-ranked players.

In addition, the Bank of the West Classic will host two former top-10 ranked players, Daniela Hantuchova and Kimiko Date-Krumm.

Formally ranked as high as No. 5 in the World, Hantuchova boasts four career WTA singles titles and arrives having won a title at Pattaya City earlier this year. As a former world No. 4, Japanese legend Date-Krumm returned to the WTA in 2008 after a 10-year hiatus, and has earned eight WTA singles titles in her career. Her retirement did not slow her down as she boasts eight top-20 wins in the last year alone.

The Bank of the West Classic will also welcome three additional top-20 players including No. 13 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 16 Julia Goerges, and No. 19 Yanina Wickmayer.

A truly global event, the 20 players on the 2011 Bank of the West Classic's acceptance list hail from 17 different countries.

Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 866-WTA-TIXS (866-982-8497) or by logging on to www.BankoftheWestClassic.com. Single-session tickets for the tournament's opening round start at just $26.

The Bank of the West Classic, a WTA Premier event, features a 28-player singles draw as well as a 16-team doubles draw. The event is owned and operated by IMG and serves as the opening women's event of the Olympus US Open Series.

2011 Bank of the West Classic Acceptance List

(As of June 14)

NAME COUNTRY RANK

Azarenka, Victoria BLR 5

Sharapova, Maria RUS 6

Bartoli, Marion FRA 9

Stosur, Samantha AUS 10

Radwanska, Agnieszka R. POL 13

Goerges, Julia GER 16

Ivanovic, Ana SRB 18

Wickmayer, Yanina BEL 19

Hantuchova, Daniela SVK 25

Williams, Serena USA 26

Kirilenko, Maria RUS 27

Errani, Sara ITA 35

Morita, Ayumi JPN 42

Marino, Rebecca C. CAN 44

Sevastova, Anastasija LAT 52

Zahlavova Strycova, Barbora CZE 54

Halep, Simona ROU 57

Lisicki, Sabine K GER 62

Date-Krumm, Kimiko JPN 63

Arvidsson, Sofia SWE 69

— Palo Alto Online Sports

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