Slovaks in final thanks to Aussies

PERTH: The drama continued at the US$750,000 Hopman Cup international mixed teams tennis tournament yesterday after host nation Australia forfeited its place in the final against the United States. 

Australia's leading women's player Alicia Molik announced she would not compete after again tearing a tendon in her left foot in a single's match on Thursday. 

Her decision thrust the Slovak Republic into the limelight with the pairing of Daniela Hantuchova and Karol Kucera now taking Australia's place. 

They will meet the American duo of Lindsay Davenport and James Blake at the Burswood Dome here on Saturday. 

Australia had previously been gifted a berth when Belgium conceded its tie to them after world number two Kim Clijsters was forced to pull out of the tournament with an ankle injury. 

But medical scans showed up an injury that troubled Molik on both feet at different times last year. 

She said she would be unlikely to play in the Adidas International event in Sydney next week and would not play in the Australian Open starting in Melbourne on Jan 19 unless the injury was completely healed. 

“I'll resume tournament play as soon as my foot is better. If that's in three weeks' time, two weeks' time ... if that's in two months' time – I don't know, we'll just have to wait and see how long it takes to heal,” Molik said. 

The USA ensured it would be able to defend the title it won last year with the team of Serena Williams and Blake when it downed Russia 3-0 yesterday, its third clean sweep in a row, following victories over the Czech Republic and France. 

Davenport, a late replacement for Williams in this year's team, has been training hard since an injury-afflicted season last year. 

She has been in scintillating form throughout the tournament and seems likely to present a significant threat in the Australian Open. 

The current world number five has not dropped a set in her three singles matches, keeping that record in tact with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Anastasia Myskina. 

She will now be pitted against out-of-form Slovakian Hantuchova in the final while Blake will meet Kucera, who tested former world number one Lleyton Hewitt on Thursday.  

The pair have met on two previous occasions with Davenport winning both encounters. 

Blake has also shown outstanding touch downing giant Russian Marat Safin 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 in a flawless display marked by some impressive athleticism. 

“It helps my confidence so much with Lindsay playing this well,” Blake said. 

“It seems like my partners never lose, I know how to pick them here. 

Also in action yesterday were France and the Czech Republic who were fighting for third place in Group A. 

In the women's singles France's world number four Amelie Mauresmo defeated promising teenager Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-4 while Jiri Novak levelled the tie for the Czechs 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 against Fabrice Santoro. 

France proved to strong in the mixed doubles winning 5-3, 6-4. – AFP 

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