Henman pushes past Sampras in seedings race

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman has will start the Australian Open which begins on Monday as the seventh seed.

The British No 1, fresh from winning the Australian Hardcourt Championships, has been placed ahead of the former world No 1 Pete Sampras (No 9) and the reigning Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic (11) while the British No 2 Greg Rusedski is seeded 29th.

Last year's Wimbledon semi-finalist and the defending champion here, Jennifer Capriati, and the men's world No 1 Lleyton Hewitt are the top seeds. Hewitt, who pulled out of the Hopman Cup last week with chicken pox, is the first Australian to be the top seed at their home Grand Slam since Ken Rosewall in 1976.

Hewitt, the US Open champion, is followed by Gustavo Kuerten and the defending champion Andre Agassi, who is aiming to become only the third man to win three consecutive Australian Open titles.

Capriati, also the holder of the French Open title, is seeded first thanks to the withdrawal of the world No 1 Lindsay Davenport with a knee injury. Venus Williams, last year's winner at Wimbledon and in the US, is seeded second with Martina Hingis third.

Capriati's build-up to the defence of her title suffered a blow when she was knocked out of the Sydney International by Alexandra Stevenson and injured her hip. She failed to show any of the form that saw her win last year's Australian and French Open titles as she crashed to a 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 defeat.

Capriati aggravated a hip injury during the second set and needed treatment in the third but said she did not expect it to trouble her in Melbourne. "I was still able to move around the court well without having any pain," she said. "I think it should be OK because I'll really take care of it."

The defeat means that she will go into the Australian Open with only one competitive match under her belt this year. She was well below her best against Stevenson, who made the Wimbledon semi-finals as a qualifier in 1999 but has since slipped down the rankings to 61.

"I didn't play aggressively enough," Capriati said. "I let her dictate around the court and I didn't really play my game... but I am not going to let it get my confidence down."

Serena Williams, meanwhile, became the first player to reach the semi-finals in Sydney when she beat the 2000 winner Amelie Mauresmo 6-4, 7-6. Mauresmo twice needed treatment to her neck but almost forced the match into a third set.

The only two seeds to reach the quarter-finals in the depleted men's draw were Switzerland's Roger Federer and the American teenager Andy Roddick. Federer, the second seed, brushed aside Belgium's Xavier Malisse 6-2, 6-4 while Roddick blasted past the Czech Bohdan Ulihrach 6-0, 6-4.

Roddick was in ominous form ahead of the Australian Open, racing through the first set in 15 minutes and sending down seven aces, including one thunderbolt timed at 209kmh.

"I want to focus on this tournament... but obviously this week is preparation for next week," said Roddick, who climbed from 160 to 16 in the rankings last year.

"I thought today was a good stepping stone for me. I started returning well and I felt like I was moving decently out there to go along with my serve."

Agassi and Sampras were first-day winners at Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament in Melbourne while Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov was upset by the journeyman Australian Scott Draper.

Sampras, coming off a first-round defeat to fellow American Todd Martin in last week's Hardcourt Championships, beat Alex Corretja of Spain 6-4, 7-6 in round-robin play while Agassi defeated the American Taylor Dent 6-3, 6-2.

Draper, whose ranking has dropped after being off the main circuit for 18 months following the death of his wife in July 2000, beat Kafelnikov 6-3, 6-4.

Mary Pierce, a former champion at the Australian Open, saw her comeback hit another hurdle when she injured an ankle during her 7-5, 6-4 second-round loss to Anabel Medina Garrigues at the Tasmanian International in Hobart.

The 26-year-old arrived in Hobart after straining her hamstring in a weekend exhibition in Hong Kong and now faces a race against time getting ready for the Australian Open.

OPEN SEEDINGS

MEN: 1 L Hewitt (Aus), 2 G Kuerten (Br), 3 A Agassi (US), 4 Y Kafelnikov (Rus), 5 J C Ferrero (Sp), 6 S Grosjean (Fr), 7 T Henman (GB), 8 T Haas (Ger), 9 P Sampras (US), 10 M Safin (Rus), 11 G Ivanisevic (Cro), 12 R Federer (Swit), 13 G Canas (Arg), 14 A Roddick (US), 15 A Corretja (Sp), 16 A Clement (Fr), 17 T Johansson (Swe), 18 C Moya (Sp), 19 A Portas (Sp), 20 J M Gambill (US), 21 F Santoro (Fr), 22 Y El Aynaoui (Mor), 23 H Arazi (Mor), 24 N Lapentti (Ecu), 25 T Enqvist (Swe), 26 A Pavel (Rom), 27 J Novak (Cz Rep), 28 S Schalken (Neth), 29 G Rusedski (GB), 30 X Malisse (Bel), 31 N Escude (Fr), 32 A Vinciguerra (Swe).

WOMEN: 1 J Capriati (US), 2 V Williams (US), 3 M Hingis (Swit), 4 K Clijsters (Bel), 5 S Williams (US), 6 J Henin (Bel), 7 A Mauresmo (Fr), 8 M Seles (US), 9 S Testud (Fr), 10 M Shaughnessy (US), 11 S Farina Elia (It), 12 E Dementieva (Rus), 13 M Maleeva (Bul), 14 A Sanchez-Vicario (Sp), 15 A Coetzer (SA), 16 I Tulyaganova (Uzbek), 17 B Schett (Aut), 18 L Raymond (US), 19 A Montolio (Sp), 20 R Grande (It), 21 D Bedanova (Cz Rep), 22 H Nagyova (Slovak), 23 M Serna (Sp), 24 A Sugiyama (Japan), 25 N Petrova (Rus), 26 T Tanasugarn (Thai), 27 C Torrens-Valero (Sp), 28 P Suarez (Arg), 29 A Kremer (Luxem), 30 T Panova (Rus), 31 E Likhovtseva (Rus), 32 F Schiavone (It).

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