Injury hits Clijsters during Australian Open build-up

Kim Clijsters' appearance at the Australian Open is in doubt after she retired hurt with a left ankle injury during her Hopman Cup match against the Australian Alicia Molik yesterday.

Clijsters, the world No 2, blew four match points in the second-set tie-breaker as Molik took the match, 3-6, 7-6, 2-3. The deciding set was going with serve and Molik was up 30-0 in her service game which would have levelled the set at 3-3 when Clijsters walked off the court.

Clijsters' fiancé, the Australian Lleyton Hewitt, beat the Belgian Xavier Malisse, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, in the following men's singles game to give Australia the lead.

Australia won 3-0 when the mixed doubles - the eagerly awaited "love match" in which Clijsters was due to face Hewitt for the first time later in the day - was declared a walkover because of Clijsters' injury.

Hewitt said Clijsters was upset that she had to retire. "I went and saw her, and she was obviously pretty distressed at the time," Hewitt said. "We weren't sure how bad it was, but it is obviously disappointing to happen a couple of weeks before a Grand Slam." The Australian Open begins on 19 January.

In an ironic twist, Hewitt also needed treatment after turning his left ankle in the third set of his match.

"I was lucky I was wearing my ankle braces otherwise I'd be out of the whole Australian summer," Hewitt said. "It felt weak after it but I was all right."

The Hopman Cup tournament director, Paul McNamee, said his medical staff were optimistic Clijsters would play in the Australian Open.

"The MRI shows bruising on the bone at the back of the ankle joint, so Kim needs a combination of rest and treatment, which includes physio and anti-inflammatories," he said. "She does need to withdraw from the Hopman Cup. It will be reassessed in the next 24 to 48 hours with regards to whether she could play next week in Sydney [at the adidas International tournament]. The medical advice is such that they are cautiously optimistic she will be OK for the Australian Open."

The Hopman Cup defending champions, the United States, beat France 3-0 yesterday. Lindsay Davenport beat Amélie Mauresmo, 6-4, 6-4, and James Blake, who won the title last year with Serena Williams, defeated Fabrice Santoro, 6-3, 6-4.

The Americans play against Russia tomorrow and have all but qualified for Saturday's final, probably against Australia.

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