Hantuchova, pin-up and world No 9, denies rumours of eating disorder

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The Independent Online

Increasing concern about the physique of Daniela Hantuchova led to the 20-year-old Slovakian being asked directly if she had a health problem at the French Open here yesterday.

"Not at all," replied Hantuchova, whose 8st 11lb are stretched over a 5ft 11in frame, making her seem better built for the catwalk than the WTA Tour, which is dominated by the powerful Williams sisters.

Hantuchova, coached by Britain's Nigel Sears, is currently ranked No 9 in the world but rose to No 5 last year after winning her first singles title at Indian Wells, California, defeating Martina Hingis, the former world No 1, in the final. Since then, the Slovakian has been the subject to much discussion as her form dipped along with her weight.

Serena Williams, the powerfully-built American world No 1, who has won the last four Grand Slam singles titles, said light-heartedly on Monday that she never steps on the scales, "because muscle weighs a lot". Hantuchova, the daughter of a computer scientist father and toxicologist mother, would not seem to have that problem.

Although she admits to having lost weight this year, Hantuchova is adamant that she is not worried about it.

"I think I am really blessed that I can eat whatever I want," she said. "It's just that I've been working really hard before this season because I wanted to be physically prepared as best as possible. I just burned more calories than I actually had in my body. But I think it's something that will come back soon. I'm really glad I can eat whatever I want."

Asked if she had a specific diet, Hantuchova replied: "Well, of course, I try to eat calories before the matches. But when I play long matches, I just burn so much that it's really hard to get it all back."

Hantuchova, the ninth seed, had a particularly long match yesterday, when she lost to Ashley Harkleroad, an 18-year-old American, 7-6, 4-6, 9-7, after three hours and eight minutes.

But Hantuchova, who was guilty of 101 unforced errors, could not be faulted for her fighting spirit in the final set, winning five games in a row from 1-5 down before being broken when serving for the match at 6-5.

"[Coming back] from 1-5 down proves that physically I'm really fit," Hantuchova said. "I felt well on the court. It had nothing to with my physical side. I think more than anything it was the mental side that was not right today.

"I was prepared well. I was 4-1 up in the first set. If I had had better shot selection, I think I would have won today."

With her looks, long blonde hair and dazzling smile, Harkleroad is also a rival to Hantuchova - who was this month voted No 2 in Ace magazine's top 20 Sexiest Players' poll - in the glamour game. To make things even more intriguing yesterday, the pair, as stipulated in their Nike contracts, were wearing identical outfits, down to dress, shoes and socks.

Hantuchova, who is due to play in the Hastings Direct Championships in Eastbourne before making a challenge at Wimbledon, acknowledged that she has found it harder to play well this year.

"There is much more pressure than there was for me last year, because I was coming up," she said.

"I had almost no pressure at all. But now everyone is expecting me to win, and it's really tough. Everyone wants to beat me. I just have to keep working hard and hope that it will come."

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