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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Venus to Headline Kremlin Cup

For tennis fans in Moscow, the last week of September has come to mean one thing: Kremlin Cup time.

The lineup for Russia's top annual sporting event, which starts Saturday, is stronger than ever this year, particularly in the women's tournament, where five of the world's top 10 players, including Venus Williams -- a high-profile absentee last year -- will be fighting it out for the $166,000 first prize. In the men's tournament, which is often overshadowed by the more prestigious women's event, the focus will be on Russian stars Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who is gunning for a sixth consecutive Kremlin Cup title.

Williams, who pulled out of last year's event because of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, is joined in the women's draw by fellow American and world No. 3 Jennifer Capriati, defending champion and world No. 5 Jelena Dokic from Yugoslavia, No. 6 Amelie Mauresmo of France and Swiss No. 10 Martina Hingis, who won the tournament in 2000.

The international brigade will be challenged by a talented local contingent, including world No. 12 Anastasia Myskina, No. 15 Yelena Dementieva, who lost to Dokic in the final last year, No. 20 Tatiana Panova and the up-and-coming Yelena Bovina, 19, who was handed a wildcard entry after winning her second tournament of the year in Quebec last week. Anna Kournikova, however, has missed out on a wildcard because of her lowly ranking this year and will almost certainly not play in the tournament, to the chagrin of her predominantly male fan club.

Locals will be expecting great things of Safin and Kafelnikov, who are fresh from winning Russia a place in the Davis Cup final, but they will have to overcome much sterner competition than last year if one of them is to carry off the $137,000 winner's check. Notable challengers include French Open champion Alberto Costa of Spain, who is ranked No. 5 in the ATP Champions Race, No. 8 Tommy Haas of Germany, No. 10 Roger Federer from Switzerland and Sweden's Thomas Johansson, who beat Safin in the final of the Australian Open in January.

Given the abundance of world-class players on display, tennis lovers will be relieved that talk last year of loaning the Kremlin Cup to China to ease the tournament's financial problems seems to have come to nothing.

"Interest from the Chinese side is not that big anymore," Shamil Tarpishchev, chairman of the tournament's board of directors, was quoted by Kommersant as saying this week. "The Chinese already have a slightly more prestigious tournament ? in Shanghai, which cost them $7 million," he said.

Tarpishchev added that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov -- like former President Boris Yeltsin, a devotee of the 12-year-old Kremlin Cup -- had told him he would do everything possible to keep the event in Russia and that in the future there shouldn't be any special problems with financing. The Kommersant report did not elaborate.

Qualifying rounds for the Kremlin Cup begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Olimpiisky Sports Complex on Prospekt Mira (Metro Prospekt Mira) and conclude Sunday. The main tournament runs Monday to Oct. 6 at the same venue. Ticket prices range from 10 rubles for a regular ticket for qualifying matches up to $900 for a VIP ticket to the finals. Tickets can be bought on the door or by calling 956-3360. Regular updates will be posted in English on the tournament web site, www.kremlincup.ru.