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Tennis: No defence from injured Novotna

THE WIMBLEDON champion, Jana Novotna, will not defend her Eastbourne singles crown this week.

The Czech player has pulled out of her last singles competition before returning to Wimbledon because of her injured ankle, but she still hopes to compete in the doubles.

Novotna lifted the Wimbledon title last year after winning the Eastbourne tournament, but preparations for her return to the All England Club have been shattered by injury.

The World No 4 has been out of action since twisting her right ankle in a collision with her doubles partner, Natasha Zvereva, during the quarter finals of the French Open women's doubles.

The pair were forced to abandon the game against Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce and now Novotna is desperate for some grass court practice before she heads for the All England club next week.

Novotna, 30, had been seeded No 2 in the Direct Line Insurance Championships, in Eastbourne, behind Monica Seles, who is ranked one place above her in the world.

But yesterday Novotna said: "After spraining my right ankle in the doubles at Roland Garros I was hoping to still play singles at Eastbourne but, unfortunately, I won't be able to do that. I will play doubles with Natasha and will continue to prepare for Wimbledon. With further rest and practice I'm hopeful everything will be alright."

Spain's Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, France's Nathalie Tauziat and Anna Kournikova of Russia are among the other top players heading for Sussex to fine tune their grass court game.

The world No 1 Martina Hingis, devastated by her defeat at the hands of Steffi Graf in the French Open final, will also be at Eastbourne in the doubles, playing with Kournikova. The grass court specialist Tauziat is in fluent form after a successful week at the DFS Classic, in Birmingham.

The French star, ranked No 9 in the world, is hoping another big week at Eastbourne, where she is seeded four, will prepare her to go one step further than last year at Wimbledon when she was beaten in the final.

Tauziat, 31, is still to win a Grand Slam singles title but has made no secret about her real ambitions in England.

She said: "I am concentrating on success at Wimbledon and I want to play as many games as possible on grass before then to improve my game."

Britain's Sam Smith, 27, has a wildcard entry at Eastbourne and is hoping to recapture the form which helped her to the fourth round of last year's Wimbledon singles, when she became the first British woman in 13 years to reach the last 16.