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Injured Clijsters uncertain for Australian Open

The 22-year-old Belgian said the muscles around her left hip were still sore, but there was no muscle tear.

tennis Updated: Jan 15, 2006 13:39 IST

Kim Clijsters is still no certainty to play the Australian Open after injuring her hip at the Sydney International last week.

"Hopefully it will get better. It's a lot better than what it was when it happened ... just walking up the stairs was very painful in Sydney," Clijsters said Sunday, on the eve of the season's first major.

No 2-ranked Clijsters, the reigning US Open champion, sought and was granted a Tuesday start for her first-round match against South Korea's Cho Yoon-jeong, giving her an extra 24 hours to recover.

The 22-year-old Belgian said the muscles around her left hip were still sore, but there was no muscle tear.

She was able to practice on Sunday morning and hoped to build up the intensity, leaving a decision on her fitness for as long as she can.

"I'm going to have a practice match and see how it feels," she said. "I'm going to see how it reacts after today's practice. If it flares up again, that will be disappointing, of course. But hopefully it won't."

For only the second time in 30 years, all of the women's top 10 are entered in the main draw at the Australian Open.

DENIS THE MENACE

Roger Federer is the face of men's tennis. Denis Istomin is ... Federer's first round opponent at the Australian Open.

The little-known 19-year-old from Uzbekistan is the ultimate longshot at the season's first major, facing top-ranked Federer in the first round.

Istomin, who ignored medical advice two years ago to quit tennis following a car accident that fractured his hip and hands in three places, moved from No 931 in the rankings at the end of 2004 to No 195 last week.

Despite the gulf in their rankings and reputations, Federer said there was no risk of him underestimating Istomin. "We all know also guys ranked outside of the top 150, 200, they are dangerous opponents," said Federer, who won 11 titles and was 81-4 in 2005. "I beat (Carlos) Moya when I was 300 and he was No 4 in the world. Everything is possible."

It's Istomin's first Grand Slam tournament and, apart from three Davis Cup matches, his first top level tour event. He earned a wild card from organizers as the winner of the 2005 Asian Championship. After the draw was released, Federer said he knew nothing about his first-rival, right down to what hand he held the racket in. "I know he's a righty by now. He's got a double-handed backhand apparently _ I know more than a couple days ago. I'll know more in a couple of days."

WINDOWS AJAR

David Nalbandian isn't bothered by some high-profile absentees from the Australian Open, one way or the other.

Asked if it gave him a window of opportunity, Nalbandian said: "Windows? The window is always open. I mean, I know that if I play good I can beat anyone."

Defending champion Marat Safin, French Open champion Rafael Nadal and four-time Australian winner Andre Agassi are out of the tournament with injuries.

They were all missing when Nalbandian was drafted into the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai in November. He beat top-ranked Roger Federer in the final and says that result improved his chances of capturing his first major title. "Of course, Shanghai gave me a lot of confidence. I feel I'm still playing 2005 season," he said.

Nalbandian, who opens Monday against Udomchoke Danai of Thailand, withdrew from an exhibition tournament at Kooyong this week with a stomach virus, but said he was feeling OK.

GO EASY

Scottish teenager Andy Murray is asking the British to show some patience, please.

"I think everybody just has to keep everything in perspective," said Murray, Britain's brightest tennis hope. "I had a great year last year but I'm still only 18 and I'm playing against guys who are still higher ranked than me and have much more experience." Murray reached the third round at Wimbledon last year and improved 449 places in 2005 for a year-end ranking of No 84. One of a bunch of teenagers hoping to break into the top 10, Murray says reaching the peak will take time.

"Not every 18-year-old is Rafael Nadal. It took Federer three years before he won a match at Wimbledon, and now he's pretty much unbeatable there," Murray said.

Murray opens against Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina in his debut at the Australian Open. He could meet local favorite Lleyton Hewitt, runner-up here last year, in the second round.

Tim Henman has carried British hopes for much of his 12-year-career, but has never reached a Grand Slam final _ despite reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon four times.

FASHION STATEMENT

The white ball has virtually vanished from tennis, but it made a comeback Sunday as the sports and fashion worlds met instead of clashing.

Rising Russian star Maria Kirilenko made her debut as tennis' face for designer Stella McCartney in a new line of clothes and shoes specially designed for the No 25 seed. Fashion tie-ups are on the rise in tennis, with Serena Williams already well-known for dabbling in her own designs.

The scene was a special tennis court set up at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The surface was plush carpet in "dusty rose" _ the same color as Kirilenko's dress, which looked like a loose tank above a layered, pleated skirt. Underneath were a fluorescent orange tank top and shorts. The materials are designed to help keep athletes cool.

Bright green tennis balls would have clearly clashed, so the event organizers found some white balls that complemented the color scheme.

"I can bring together two things that are very important to me, my sport and my style," Kirilenko said. "It's the best technology. In addition, it looks great."

McCartney, getting ready for the autumn fashion shows in Britain, couldn't make it but sent Kirilenko a telegram of support. "Now, get out there and kick ass!" McCartney wrote.

First Published: Jan 15, 2006 13:39 IST