Molik injury puts Australia out of Cup

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The Independent Online

The defending champion Americans secured a berth in the Hopman Cup final just minutes before Australia withdrew Friday from the championship match at the international mixed team event because of Alicia Molik's foot injury.

The Slovak Republic, runner-up in Group B behind Australia, got a free ride into Saturday's final against the United States.

Slovakians Daniela Hantuchova and Karol Kucera moved up the rankings after Kim Clijsters' ankle injury forced Belgium to withdraw, then were promoted again when the Australians were forced to forfeit on the eve of the title match.

The United States had needed only to win one match in the best-of-three Group A encounter against Russia on Friday to reach the final. Lindsay Davenport beat Anastasia Myskina 6-4, 6-4 in the women's singles to give the Americans a 1-0 buffer and end Russia's hopes.

James Blake overcame former world No. 1 Marat Safin 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-4 to make it 2-0 and then combined with Davenport for a 7-5, 6-4 win over the Russians in mixed doubles.

The United States didn't drop a match in the round-robin stage and is hot favorite to become the first nation to win back-to-back Hopman Cup titles.

The 24-year-old Blake said he'd attack Kucera's second serve and hoped to put the Slovakian off his game.

"His serve is the only thing that has let him down, hopefully I can get on his serve early and pressure him," Blake said. Blake and Kucura have never played, while Davenport has a 2-0 record against Hantuchova.

The Slovakians had a 2-1 win over Hungary and got the points against Australia after Molik withdrew on Thursday night, giving Hantuchova a walkover.

France had a 2-1 win over Czech Republic after splitting Friday's singles results.

Amelie Mauresmo beat Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-4 before Jiri Novak got the Czechs back level with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 win over Fabrice Santoro.

Mauresmo and Santoro won the deciding mixed doubles match 6-3, 6-4.

Molik and former men's No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt have had an unfortunate run at the Hopman Cup. The South Australian pair had to withdraw in 2002 when Hewitt developed chicken pox. They reached the final last year but were outplayed by Blake and Serena Williams.

Molik limped off while leading Hantuchova by a set and 3-0.

The 22-year-old Molik initially thought she'd recover in time to partner Hewitt in the final, but MRI tests showed a tear in the tendons of her left foot.

A similar injury to her right foot ended Molik's 2003 season in October.

"I don't think I will be playing next week in Sydney, I will resume tournament play as soon as my foot is better," she said. "Whether that is in three weeks time, two weeks time, or two months time, we will have to wait and see."

The tournament claimed a high-profile casualty earlier when women's world No. 2 Clijsters hurt her ankle against Molik on Wednesday night and pulled out of the competition.

Clijsters is still entered for the adidas International in Sydney starting Monday.

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