Injury disrupts Agassi build-up to Melbourne

Tim Henman, seeded seventh for the centenary Australian Open, which starts next Monday, is one of several leading players who are concerned that injuries or ailments may diminish their challenge.

Tim Henman, seeded seventh for the centenary Australian Open, which starts next Monday, is one of several leading players who are concerned that injuries or ailments may diminish their challenge.

While Henman, the British No 1, tries to loosen stiffness in his back at the Kooyong Classic, Andre Agassi, the eighth seed, has had to withdraw from the Melbourne warm-up event because of a hip injury.

The 34-year-old Agassi, who has won the Australian Open four times, was serving to his American compatriot Andy Roddick at Kooyong when his hip started cramping. He will have an MRI scan to assess the damage before making a decision about competing at the Open.

Agassi said the hip problem was not the same as the one that caused him to miss several tournaments last year, including Wimbledon. "I felt it a little tight, then I felt a sharp pain," he said. "I didn't know if it was one of those feelings you get if you don't stretch right to a ball and then it goes away. But then when I sat down on the changeover and I stood up to go, I had a hard time lifting my leg to stand up."

Mark Philippoussis, of Australia, withdrew yesterday because of an adductor muscle tear he suffered at the Hopman Cup in Perth last week. Tommy Haas, of Germany, is doubtful because of a similar injury, Joachim Johansson, of Sweden, has a hamstring problem.

Henman, a semi-finalist last year at the French Open and the US Open, has yet to advance beyond the fourth round in Melbourne. The 30-year-old was eliminated in the third round last year by Guillermo Canasafter leading by two sets to love.

There are also casualties in the women's singles. Lindsay Davenport, the No 1 seed, is doubtful after withdrawing from the Medibank International in Sydney because of bronchitis. The women's event has already lost Justine Henin-Hardenne, the defending champion, and her Belgian compatriot, Kim Clijsters, as well as the American Jennifer Capriati.

Whether the absentees will help Amélie Mauresmo, the French former world No 1, to win her first Grand Slam title remains to be seen. Mauresmo, the second seed, has a reputation for losing her nerve in the major championships. Her only Grand Slam final appearance came in Australia in 1999, when she lost to Martina Hingis.

Russian players are lining up for another raid, having won all but the Australian Open last season. Anastasia Myskina, the French Open champion, is the third seed, Maria Sharapova, the Wimbledon champion, is seeded fourth, Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won the US Open, is seeded fifth, and Elena Dementieva, who reached the finals of both the French Open and the US Open, is seeded sixth.

Serena Williams, of the United States, the 2003 champion, is the seventh seed, one place ahead of her sister, Venus.

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