Courier joins crop of seeds for Open
FORMER world number one Jim Courier and South African Wayne Ferreira will join Andre Agassi and Michael Chang in one of the strongest fields to contest the US$328,000 Salem Hong Kong Open at Victoria Park.
American Courier, now ranked 11th in the world, won the Hong Kong tournament in 1992 in the same week in which he ascended to the number one spot.
One year later, he lost his top-ranking and his Hong Kong title to the same player, current world number one Pete Sampras.
The ranking cut-off for the 23 direct entries into the 32-man draw was made at 77, making the April 17 to 23 tournament the strongest since the event started in 1990.
Tournament director Lincoln Venancio said any tournament would be proud to have a field in which the leading 23 players are ranked in the top 77.
'We are very happy with the overall field, especially by being able to secure both Courier and Ferreira' said Venancio. 'To have the player cut-off at 77 is truly outstanding.
'It is much better than we expected and shows that players want to come to this tournament and consider Hong Kong to be an important stop on the calendar.' Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, ranked 23 in the world, is a significant name in the field as he recently recorded wins over both Agassi and Chang in an ATP tournament in Philadelphia.
The 23 direct entry players will be joined by three wild cards and four qualifiers.
South Korean Yoon Yong-il has already been awarded a wild card for his victory at the Salem Asian Championships in December.
The remaining two places will be special exemptions, given to two players who may be playing elsewhere in the week prior to Hong Kong and who do not have time to play in the qualifying competition on April 15 and 16.
Venancio did not rule out the possibility of Agassi arriving in Hong Kong as the world number one.
The US and Australian Open champion has gradually cut Sampras' lead at the top of the rankings and could overtake him by week's end, depending on their respective results at the Indian Wells tournament.
Michael Duff, executive vice president of the Association of Tennis Professionals, said even if Agassi had not assumed the world number one position by the time the Hong Kong event starts, Victoria Park could provide the stage for the flamboyant American to pursue the top spot in world tennis.
'Everything is for Agassi at the moment,' said Duff. 'Sampras has more points to defend than Agassi, so you never know what could happen.' Agassi's participation in the event - the first time he will play in a ATP-sanctioned tournament in Hong Kong - is expected to stir fan-interest to an unprecedented high.
The 24-year-old is currently the hottest player on the tour, and together with perennial favourite Chang, will be one of the star attractions.
Chang, who will be defending his title, is also coming off a good start to the season, in which he reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open - the year's first Grand Slam competition.
Player entry list: Andre Agassi (US, world ranking two), Michael Chang (US, four), Jim Courier (US, 11), Wayne Ferreira (South Africa, 12), Thomas Enqvist (Sweden, 23), Alexander Volkov (Russia, 38), Chuck Adams (US, 41), Jared Palmer (US, 43), Jonas Bjorkman (Sweden, 44), Richey Reneberg (US, 46), Martin Damm (Czech Republic, 49), Jan Siemerink (the Netherlands, 52), Lionel Roux (France, 54), Markus Zoecke (Germany, 60), Hendrik Dreekmann (Germany, 62), Jonathan Stark (US, 65), Jeremy Bates (Britain, 67), Henrik Holm (Sweden, 69), Jeff Tarango (US, 70), Jim Grabb (US, 72), Gianluca Pozzi (Italy, 73), Jakob Hlasek (Switzerland, 75), Greg Rusedski (Canada, 77), David Prinosil (Germany, 80), Kenneth Carlsen (Denmark, 81).
Wild cards: Yoon Yong-il (South Korea, 319).