CINCINNATI (AFP) - Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova return to competitive tennis after long post-Wimbledon pauses to add extra world-class star power into the mix at next week's ATP and WTA Cincinnati Masters.
World No. 2 Federer, the defending champion, arrived early in the Midwest flatlands to get his eye in after not playing since losing the Wimbledon final five weeks ago to Novak Djokovic.
The Swiss took a break that included touring charity projects for African children funded by his personal foundation, then decided to skip this week's Montreal Masters to better prepare for the US Open starting in just over a fortnight.
Now, the champion who claimed the first of his six titles here in 2005, is bearing down in training to be ready for the final Grand Slam of the season in New York, with the week in Cincinnati his only competitive tune-up.
The top eight seeds in both fields get first-round byes. Absent from the scene is 2014 finalist David Ferrer of Spain due to a long running shoulder injury.
Federer, who turned 34 last weekend, will start with either Pablo Cuevas or Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round.
Federer will aim for a strong start after losing to world No. 1 Djokovic, with the Serb leading the field in Cincinnati as he arrives with major titles from the Australian Open and the All England Club in his pocket.
"He's clearly making a big name for himself, having won as many times now as he has in these different Slams," said Federer, holder of the all-time best of 17 Grand Slam singles crowns.
"He's for a streak going of winning a lot of titles time and time again.
"Clearly he's going to be one of the top guys. I'm sure he still has many more great years ahead of him."
Cincinnati remains the rare Masters 1000 event where Djokovic has not claimed a trophy, losing finals in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
World No. 2 Sharapova last played in a Wimbledon semi-final, when she lost to Serena Williams for the 17th time in succession.
The Russian was to have returned for the WTA event in Toronto but made a late injury pullout just to be on the safe side.
The 28-year-old with five Grand Slam trophies will again be on a mission to deny Williams a second title at the event where she finally broke through a year ago by beating Ana Ivanovic in the final.
Williams will face the winner from a qualifier or Tzvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria in her opener.
Romanian Simona Halep takes the third seeding ahead of Petra Kvitova, the double Wimbledon winner diagnosed with glandular fever but still given the medical OK to compete.
Caroline Wozniacki is seeded fifth with Ivanovic sixth ahead of French Open finalist Lucie Safarova and eighth seed Karolina Pliskova.
Behind Federer is Britain's Andy Murray on the third seeding with the two-time champion Scot looking for his first title in the Midwest since 2011.
Japan's Kei Nishikori, last year's US Open runner-up, stands as fourth seed, trailed by French Open winner Stan Wawrinka, Czech Tomas Berdych on sixth, reigning US Open champion Marin Cilic seventh and Rafael Nadal eighth as the Spaniard tries to make up ranking ground after a recent injury slump.
Seeds:Men: Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) Roger Federer (SUI x2) Andy Murray (GBR x3) Kei Nishikori (JPN x4) Stan Wawrinka (SUI x5) Tomas Berdych (CZE x6) Marin Cilic (CRO x7) Rafael Nadal (ESP x8) Milos Raonic (CAN x9) Gilles Simon (FRA 10) John Isner (USA x11) Richard Gasquet (FRA x12) David Goffin (BEL x13) Gael Monfils (FRA x14) Kevin Anderson (RSA x 15) Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x16)
Women: Serena Williams (USA x1) Maria Sharapova (RUS x2) Simona Halep (ROM x3) Petra Kvitova (CZE x4) Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x5) Ana Ivanovic (SRB x6) Lucie Safarova (CZE x7) Karolina Pliskova (CZE x8) Garbine Muguruza (ESP x9) Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x10) Angelique Kerber (GER x11) Timea Bascinszky (SUI x12) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL x14) Elina Svitolina (UKR x15) Andrea Petkovic (GER x16) Sara Errani (ITA x16)