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French Open doubt as Williams limps out of final

Venus Williams pulled out of the German Open final yesterday because of an ankle injury, delivering the title to Amelie Mauresmo. The injury could threaten Williams' chances of playing the French Open.

Williams is just the latest victim in an epidemic of injuries to the top players. The American and former No 1 in the world twisted her left ankle against Croatian teenager Karolina Sprem in Saturday's semi-final.

The American, battling injuries all year, said she couldn't say if the latest one would force her out of Roland Garros, which starts in two weeks. "I don't know, I don't even want to think about that right now," Williams said. "Last night I had difficulties with it. Right now I got one good and one bad foot. I would really, really like to play the French. But right now I'm just going home to get some rest and see my family." "

Mauresmo, the third–ranked player in the world, expressed disappointment at the way she picked up her first title this year and 11th of her career. "It's a shame for everybody. It's a strange way to end the tournament – you want to win a title on the court," Mauresmo said.

Every one of the woman's tour's biggest names has been sidelined by health problems this year. Top–ranked Justine Henin–Hardenne is currently battling a virus and Serena Williams will return from a knee injury at next week's tournament in Rome.

Kim Clijsters, ranked second, was forced out of the French Open when her recurring wrist injury flared up at the German Open, a key tuneup for the French. She pulled out of a quarter-final match. "It's like there's a spell over the tour," Clijsters said.

Mauresmo has missed several events with back injuries along with Jennifer Capriati, whom she beat in Saturday's semi-finals. The Frenchwoman said the level of competition was getting fiercer on the woman's tour, where players are more athletic and hit harder with each passing year.

"Tennis is getting harder and harder," Mauresmo said. "The level is higher and higher every year and we have to work to keep up that level and sometimes our body doesn't follow."

Venus Williams has battled a leg injury and several times twisted her ankles during a comeback from an abdominal strain that sidelined the American for the second half of 2003.

After finally feeling healthy, she was riding a 15–match winning streak and seeking her third straight title before pulling out of Sunday's final.

The withdrawal spoiled a battle between two top favorites for the French Open title after Williams survived a tough match against Sprem. The Croatian was up 3–0 in the final set before Williams rallied to win 2–6, 6–3, 6–4 at the US$1.3 million clay–court event.

Mauresmo, who also won the event in 2001, routed Capriati 6–2, 6–0 and appears to be in great form heading into the French Open. "I'm one of, let's say, five players who have real hopes of winning there," Mauresmo said. "The pleasure isn't the same winning the tournament this way. But it's not just today, it's the way you've played the whole week." Mauresmo took home US$189,000 for her title.