The Chase is on in women's tennis

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Martina Hingis enters this week's Chase Championships as the defending champion. She is also on a two-tournament losing streak and intent on changing things.

Martina Hingis enters this week's Chase Championships as the defending champion. She is also on a two-tournament losing streak and intent on changing things.

"You want to end up the season with a victory," she said of the $2 million tournament that begins today at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Hingis is ranked No 1 and will be top-seeded in the elite 16-player field. Lindsay Davenport, seeded No 2, lost to Hingis in this event last year but beat the Swiss teenager 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday to capture the Advanta Championships in Philadelphia.

Hingis also lost the final in Zurich, Switzerland, to Venus Williams, one of four players making their debut in the season-ending showcase. The others are the younger Williams sister, Serena, along with Amelie Mauresmo of France and Barbara Schett of Austria.

Three of the sport's biggest stars of recent years, however, will be missing.Steffi Graf, who won the title five times, has retired and will be honoured by Madison Square Garden and the WTA Tour on Tuesday night. Graf, who won the French Open and reached the final at Wimbledon, qualified for this year's toam tournament titles. "New York and Madison Square Garden have always been very special to me and I'm looking forward to coming back."

The ceremony will be held after the first singles match of the evening."Steffi's retirement never gave her fans a chance to say goodbye," said Jim Fuhse, WTA Tour director of promotions. "Tuesday will give them their chance."Two other former Garden champions who played during the year will not be in the field. Jana Novotna, the 1997 winner, joined Graf in retirement, while three-time winner Monica Seles, who qualified, has a stress fracture in her right foot.

Schett, seeded seventh, will play the opening match tonight, facing Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario of Spain. Then, No 5 Mary Pierce, one of five French players in the field, takes on Anna Kournikova of Russia.

"I think it will be a tough match, but I have good experience against her," Kournikova said.

Hingis opens her defense on Tuesday against Sandrine Testud of France. She could use the Garden court to get back at Davenport.

"Next week at Chase, maybe we'll be in the finals again," Hingis said on Sunday in Philadelphia.

Coming off a dominating performance in the semi-finals against Venus Williams, Davenport used a big serve and booming baseline strokes to win her first Advanta title after finishing runner-up the past two years.

This was the second WTA Tour match this year between Hingis and Davenport, and Davenport has won both. They also met in the Hopman Cup in January, with Hingis winning.

Davenport heads to New York with lots of momentum. Yet the reigning Wimbledon champion has been sidelined with an aching left wrist, an injury that apparently bothered her enough to force her withdrawal from the doubles semi-finals in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, sixth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat of France plays Amanda Coetzer of South Africa in the morning and No 4 Serena Williams meets Dominique Van Roost of Belgium just before the Graf ceremony.

The first round will be completed on Wednesday, with No 8 Julie Halard-Decugis of France against Anke Huber of Germany in a morning match. The night program begins with Davenport-Mauresmo and winds up with third-seeded Venus Williams against Conchita Martinez.

The quarter-finals are on Thursday and Friday, with the semi-finals on Saturday afternoon. The best-of-3-sets final, a change from the best-of-5-sets played in past years, is Sunday.

"It's a great event. It's really nice," Kournikova said of the Chase Championships. "You have the top 16 players in the world. It's really the best of the best."

Schedule of play for the first round of the Chase Championships of the WTA Tour at Madison Square Garden:

Monday Night Session (begins 2300 GMT)

Barbara Schett (7) vs. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario Mary Pierce (5) vs. Anna Kournikova

Tuesday Day Session (begins 1600 GMT)

Nathalie Tauziat (6) vs. Amanda Coetzer Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs (3) vs. Elena Likhovtseva and Ai Sugiyama

Night Session (begins 2300 GMT)

Serena Williams (4) vs. Dominique Van RoostMartina Hingis (1) vs. Sandrine TestudDoubles to be determined

Wednesday Day Session (begins 1600 GMT)

Julie Halard-Decugis (8) vs. Anke HuberArantxa Sanchez Vicario and Larissa Neiland (4) vs. Irina Spirlea and Caroline Vis

Night Session (begins 2300 GMT)

Lindsay Davenport (2) vs. Amelie MauresmoVenus Williams (3) vs. Conchita Martinez