Hingis tops seedings at German Open

BERLIN, MAY 8. Martina Hingis, who won the Hamburg Open final on Sunday, will celebrate her return to the number one ranking by bidding to retain her title in the German Open tennis tournament which starts here on Monday.

The biggest obstacle in her way may come in the surprising form of Nathalie Tauziat. The 32-year-old Frenchwoman has risen to a career high ranking of three, leapfrogging over Mary Pierce and Venus Williams at an age when most players would have retired.

``The older she gets, the better she is,'' said an admiring Hingis. ``She's very clever and can get the best out of her game. She's probably not the fastest on the tour or the youngest, but she can play a very smart game. She deserves it because she's a very fair player and she's a competitor.''

Tauziat, though, is primarily a fast court player and she may struggle to justify her number two seeding. And none of her seven titles, the last of which came on an indoor court last February in Paris when she defeated Serena Williams, has been on clay. She also faces the prospect of a clash with canny veteran Natasha Zvereva in the second round.

Instead, former champion and number three seed Conchita Martinez may pose a bigger challenge, although she struggled in Hamburg by taking three sets to overcome qualifier Lubomira Bacheva and then losing to Anke Huber.

Another player seeking form is fourth seed Julie Halard-Decugis, who lost early in Bol. Of the other seeds, Arantxa Sanchez- Vicario has the best. Refusing to be distracted by her upcoming marriage by leaving most of the arranging to her parents, the fiesty Spaniard is on her favourite surface.

The sixth seed's results on clay have been impressive so far, with a quarterfinals in Amelia Island followed by a runner-up finish in Hilton Head. Then she moved from the United States to Europe and promptly reached the final in Hamburg.

Amelie Mauresmo, seeded nine, could also excel at the event in which she first came to prominence two years ago.

Saving a match point in the qualifying rounds, she eventually reached the final by beating the number two and three players in the world.

Other threats could also come from an in-form Anke Huber, who had an 11-match winning streak broken by Hingis in the Hamburg semifinals, and the persistent Amanda Coetzer, who lost a marathon battle with Sanchez Vicario at the same stage.