Australia in injury scare

PERTH: The Hopman Cup international mixed teams tennis tournament was again thrown into turmoil here yesterday when Australia's top-ranked women's player Alicia Molik pulled out of a Group B tie with the Slovak Republic following the recurrence of a foot injury. 

Molik was leading Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 3-0 when she stopped for treatment on her left foot and shortly after conceded to her opponent. 

She did not return for the mixed doubles rubber with partner Lleyton Hewitt meaning the Australian team lost the tie 2-1 after Hewitt downed Karol Kucera 6-2, 6-7 (8-10), 6-3 in the men's singles. 

Molik's withdrawal was the event's second major loss through injury in as many days. 

On Wednesday, Australia were handed a place in the final when Belgian number two Kim Clijsters was forced to pull out of the tournament with an ankle injury. 

Clijsters had been playing Molik when she hobbled off the court in the third set, giving Australia a 3-0 win after Hewitt won his singles match. 

Despite the disruption, tournament director Paul McNamee said Molik would be fit for tomorrow's final against either the USA or Russia. 

“She was a little scared, she felt like it was when it happened before, not bad but like an early warning sign so that's why she took the precaution,” McNamee said. 

“She had a warning sign before when she hurt it, so as a precaution she felt she shouldn't play on given Australia is in the final.” 

Molik, like Clijsters, is due to play in the Adidas International tournament in Sydney starting Sunday and the Australian Open which starts in Melbourne on Jan 19. 

She has previously suffered from a foot tendon injury known as planters fascia to her right foot after last year's Australian Open, then her left foot last October. 

If she is forced out of the Hopman Cup, Australia's place in the final will then be taken by the Slovak Republic represented by Hantuchova and Karol Kucera. 

Earlier yesterday big-hitting Russian Marat Safin stayed on track with his New Years' vow to again reach the top of men's tennis with an impressive win over talented Czech Jiri Novak. 

Safin, who earlier in the tournament proclaimed his intention to make number one in the world before the end of the year, showed greater composure and fewer theatrics to defeat Novak 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (8-6), 6-3. 

Russia took out the Group A tie against the Czech Republic 2-1 with wins in both singles rubbers but a potentially costly loss in the mixed doubles. 

Safin's teammate Anastasia Myskina, who lost to France's Amelie Mauresmo in the opening tie, had earlier downed up-and-coming youngster Barbora Strycova 6-3, 7-6 (7-0). 

But she and Safin failed to grasp their chance in the mixed doubles, despite serving for the match, and with the scores locked at 3-6, 7-6, (7-1) the Russians lost the special super tie-break used to determine a result 11-9. 

That result means the Russian team must now not drop a set in its showdown with the US team of Lindsay Davenport and James Blake today if they are to advance to a place in the final against Australia. – AFP 

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