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Agassi pulls out of Australian Open

Four-time winner Agassi said he won't participate in the first grand slam of 2006 due to an ankle injury.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2006 12:00 IST
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Australian Open organisers are bracing for a string of high-profile drop-outs after Andre Agassi announced on Thursday that he was withdrawing from the tournament.

The four-times Australian Open champion said he had been forced to pull out of the first grand slam of 2006 because of an ankle injury he suffered last year.

Agassi is the first major casualty from the Open but organisers are expecting more big-name absentees in the next week.

The reigning Australian Open men's champion Marat Safin is in serious doubt because of a long-term knee injury, French Open champion Rafael Nadal is in danger because of a foot problem and former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova is in jeopardy because of a shoulder complaint.

Australian Open tournament director Paul McNamee told reporters in Perth it was unlikely any of them would make it to Melbourne Park when the tournament starts on January 16.

"I'm sure by Monday or Tuesday there'll be a lot of information, because if you're not on a plane by Monday I don't think you're playing," he said.

"We always lose a few players every year, but that's inevitable."

Nadal, the world's number-two-ranked player and one of the sport's biggest drawcards, injured his left foot in Madrid last year and hasn't played since.

He pulled out of this week's Chennai Open and announcedon thursday that he was also withdrawing from next week's Sydney International, one of the last major warm-up events before the Australian Open.

"I've spoken with his management and they say it's 50-50 for the Australian Open," McNamee said. "I'm not optimistic now. I think he might miss. 50-50's not a great stat really in my experience."

Safin, who beat world number one Roger Federer in an epic semi-final last year before downing Australia's Lleyton Hewitt in the final, is unlikely to defend his title.

The big Russian has been sidelined since last year and recently pulled out of the Hopman Cup in Perth while his compatriot Sharapova withdrew from the Australian women's hardcourt championships because of her own ongoing injury problems.

"There's no word on Marat Safin, but I have significant doubts (he will play). I'd say he's definitely in doubt, but there's no word yet," McNamee said.

"And Maria Sharapova also had injury problems at the end of the year, so they're not players with fresh injuries."

Agassi, a staunch supporter of the Australian Open when many other top players didn't make the trip Down Under, hasn't played since injuring his ankle at the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai in November.

The 35-year-old said he had been undergoing rehabilitation in the hope of playing in Melbourne but ran out of time.

"I made a commitment to myself not to play unless I can be at my absolute best," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, even with the amount of training and rehabilitation I've been going through, my ankle is still not 100 per cent."

It is not unusual for top players to miss the Australian Open through injuries suffered the previous season and there have been growing calls to move the tournament to a later date.

Last year's casualties included defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, beaten finalist Kim Clijsters and Jennifer Capriati, the 2001 and 2002 winner, and this year's toll looks like being even higher.

Players have been demanding the first grand slam of the year, which is traditionally held in the last two weeks of January, be moved back to March when the weather is cooler and also to give them a longer break.

Tennis Australia officials did agree to push the 2007 tournament back one week but later scrapped the plan and reverted to the original dates.

First Published: Jan 05, 2006 12:00 IST