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Beyond the Baseline

Watch List: WTA No. 1 on the line; Rafael Nadal continues comeback

serena-williams-doha Serena Williams can reclaim the No. 1 ranking by making the Doha semifinals. (Virginie Bouyer/Icon SMI)

The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, the WTA No. 1 ranking is up for grabs, Roger Federer returns and the Rafael Nadal comeback tour continues.  

Qatar Open

The WTA No. 1 ranking is on the line this week in Doha, where Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have a chance to unseat Victoria Azarenka again. Here are the most relevant scenarios:

• Azarenka must make the final to have a chance to remain at No. 1.

• Williams can become No. 1 for the first time since 2010 by advancing to the semifinals.

• Sharapova can secure No. 1 if she wins the title and Williams does not reach the semifinals.

• Williams can still clinch the No. 1 ranking if Azarenka doesn't make the final or Sharapova doesn't win the title.

Based on those scenarios, Williams can retake the No. 1 ranking without going through Azarenka or Sharapova. While Sharapova has been drawn into her half, Williams only has to make the semifinals to trigger a rankings shakeup. But it's unlikely that the possibility of reclaiming the top spot is Williams' primary motivation for making the long trek to Doha. Not unlike last year, Williams could have withdrawn from Doha and cited the various injuries she played through in Melbourne, but she saddled up. I suspect she stayed in the tournament because of a strong desire to re-establish her dominance quickly and move past her quarterfinal loss to Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open.

Li Na, who withdrew because of the ankle injury sustained in the Australian Open final, is the only top-10 player not in the field. With the tournament coming immediately after Fed Cup, expect a lot of early-round upsets, especially among the players who won't get much of a break between their weekend Fed Cup duties and their first-round matches.

The two potential third-round matches that might require the popcorn machine: Sharapova vs. Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki vs. Angelique Kerber. Here are all of the early-round matches to watch:

First Round: Christina McHale vs. Vera Dushevina; Sloane Stephens vs. Anna Tatishvili; Laura Robson vs. Daniela Hantuchova; Ana Ivanovic vs. Tamira Paszek; Yulia Putintseva vs. Mona Barthel; Marion Bartoli vs. Francesca Schiavone.

Potential Second Round: Marion Bartoli vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova; Mona Barthel vs. Angelique Kerber; Petra Kvitova vs. Ekatarina Makarova.

Potential Third Round: Caroline Woniacki vs. Angelique Kerber; Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Ana Ivanovic; Maria Sharapova vs. Sloane Stephens; Bartoli/Kuznetsova vs. Sam Stosur.

Click here for the complete draw.

ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament

Federer is back to defend his title in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, an indoor ATP 500 tournament run by former pro Richard Krajicek that has gone out of its way to keep the Swiss star very, very happy. Federer reportedly received a $1 million appearance fee last year.

Joining Federer as top-four seeds are Juan Martin del Potro (the finalist last year), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, who won the Open Sud de France last week for his second title of the year.. Jerzy Janowicz, Gael Monfils and Bernard Tomic are also in the draw. Obviously, Federer isn't a lock for the title, especially in light of Del Potro's looming presence. The Argentine finished his 2012 season by beating Federer twice indoors, in Basel and at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Two matches to watch right out of the gate: Del Potro vs. Monfils and Tomic vs. Grigor Dimitrov, both of which are first-rounders. Dimitrov hasn't won an ATP match since making the Brisbane final in January, while I'm sure every top player is praying for the day Monfils' ranking is back up where it belongs so they can avoid playing him early. Ranked No. 107, Monfils needed a wild card into the main draw. Tough luck, DelPo.

Here are all of the early-round matches to watch:

First Round: Grigor Dimitrov vs. Bernard Tomic; Gael Monfils vs. Juan Martin del Potro; Benoit Paire vs. Marcos Baghdatis.

Potential Second Round: Jerzy Janowicz vs. Julien Benneteau; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Martin Klizan.

Potential Third Round: Roger Federer vs. Jerzy Janowicz; Bernard Tomic vs. Richard Gasquet.

Click here for the complete draw.

horacio-zeballos-chile Horacio Zeballos stunned Rafael Nadal in the VTR Open final for his first title. (Mario Ruiz/EPA/Landov)

Brasil Open

No one saw Horacio Zeballos' title run coming last week in Chile, where the Argentine, ranked No. 73 at the time, joined Federer and Novak Djokovic as the only players to beat Nadal in a clay-court final, so who knows what surprises are in store this week in São Paulo. Nadal is once again the top seed in a draw featuring the same cast of characters as last week's VTR Open, with one important addition: two-time defending champion Nicolas Almagro.

While Almagro definitely strengthens the field, he's also coming off a leg injury that helped spell his demise in the Australian Open quarterfinals against David Ferrer, and he's 0-8 against Nadal. Almagro could face Zeballos in the second round, while Nadal will open against either a qualifier or fellow Spaniard Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, who is ranked No. 91.

Click here for the complete draw.

SAP Open

Another U.S. tournament says goodbye this week as the SAP Open in San Jose, Calif., a Bay Area event that dates to 1889, will stage its finale. The tournament has been sold and will relocate to Rio de Janeiro next year, a clear sign of the changing interests and power brokers of international tennis. So here's to one last hurrah.

JENKINS: SAP Open leaves rich history behind

Milos Raonic will go for his third straight title this year and, yes, we should probably get all the jokes about a Canadian going for a hat trick inside the hockey arena that serves as the home to the San Jose Sharks out of the way. He's the top seed again, followed by John Isner, Sam Querrey and Tommy Haas. Jack Sock, Ryan Harrison and Lleyton Hewitt are also entered.

Click here for the complete draw.

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