Caroline Wozniacki needed three sets to beat Elena Dementieva at the 2010 Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. (Hiro Komae/LANDOV)
The Watch List is a weekly feature that spotlights the must-know storylines from the upcoming week in tennis.
Konnichiwa, ladies: After two weeks off to travel home, say hi to mom and dad and do some laundry, the top women are back in action this week at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. This is the first time the Tour will stop in Japan since the devastating tsunami in March, and while there was much speculation and concern about whether the tournament would go forward (Kim Clijsters rather famously said in Miami that she wouldn't come to Tokyo due to radiation concerns), it's nice to see a draw with the top-four players in the world and two 2011 Grand Slam winners present. Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva lead the field with Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur also in action.
Sure, the Slam season is over, but there's still much to play for as the women try to sprint through the last five weeks of the season and qualify for the Year-End Championships in Istanbul. Only Wozniacki and Sharapova have secured spots (though we all knew Sharapova was going to be there regardless, since fiancee Sasha Vujacic now plays basketball in Turkey), so the remaining six positions are still up for grabs. I'm keeping my eyes on Stosur, Kvitova and Azarenka. A win against a tough draw here or in Beijing would go a long way toward putting an exclamation mark on their seasons.
Chasing Roger: Andy Murray threw down the gauntlet last week, and no, for once I'm not referring to the strike talk. The Scot's goal for the rest of the year is to catch Roger Federer and finish the year with the No. 3 ranking. While he sits at No. 4 right now, he's on pace to make good as he's ahead of Federer by 265 points in the Year-To-Date rankings. With the news of Federer's withdrawal from Shanghai, Murray has a great opportunity to build up points over the next few weeks. He's the top seed in the Thailand Open this week and he's scheduled for Tokyo and Shanghai as well.
More withdrawals on the horizon?: The Asian tournaments have already suffered a big pull-out in the form of Federer, but I suspect that list will get longer this week. What about Novak Djokovic? He hasn't withdrawn from Beijing or Shanghai despite trying to heal a muscle tear. And while most of the top WTA players have already made their way to Asia, there's one notable name still Stateside, struggling with writer's block and speeding tickets: Serena Williams. Will we see her in Beijing?
It's sleepy-time in the Western world: Time to set your alarm clocks and invest in one of those programmable coffeemakers, tennis fans. With play in Japan, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok starting around the time the Western world is fluffing its pillows, it takes commitment and caffeine to track one's favorite players. What's that U.S. Open slogan? "It Must Be Love?" No kidding.