Originally created 01/14/02

Agassi out of Open with wrist injury



MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andre Agassi's bid for a third straight Australian Open title ended when he pulled out of the year's first Grand Slam event because of a wrist injury.

The announcement Monday (Sunday EST) by the organizers came just hours before the tournament was to begin.

Agassi won this event in 2000 and 2001 and was in position to become the first man to win three consecutive Australian Opens since Roy Emerson, who won five in a row from 1963-67.

Agassi, seeded third, informed Australian Open organizers late Sunday night.

Agassi lost to Pete Sampras in three sets Saturday in the final of an exhibition tournament in Melbourne.

Agassi had been in the same half of the draw as No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, Sampras, Marat Safin and Andy Roddick. They start play Tuesday.

Monday's first featured men's match has French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten against Julien Boutter of France.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the 1999 Australian champion, plays Michael Kohlmann of Germany; Sebastien Grosjean of France meets Juan Balcells of Spain; and Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic meets Martin Damm of the Czech Republic.

Hewitt, voted the 2001 ATP Player of the Year, gives the home crowd hope for the first Australian winner here since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

At 20 years, 8 months, he was the youngest year-end No. 1 since the ATP rankings started in 1973.

He's recovering from chicken pox, although he won an exhibition match against Todd Martin on Friday.

Sampras is encouraged following his victory over Agassi in the exhibition.

"My preparation is as good as it's going to get," said Sampras, coming off his first season without a tournament title since 1989. "I feel like I'm playing well, hitting the ball fine, moving well."

Among the women, Venus Williams came to last year's Australian Open as the reigning Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion, and struggled just to reach the semifinals.

This year, she has the same two titles in hand and the same prominent rivals in her half of the draw - but less offseason rust showing.

By beating Justine Henin last weekend to win a tuneup tournament, Williams won her 14th straight match against a top-10 player and 20th in a row overall.

Williams is in the first center-court women's match Monday, meeting Ansley Cargill, an American qualifier ranked 230th. Williams needed three sets to get by a qualifier in last year's opening round.

Younger sister Serena, who lost to Venus in the U.S. Open final, plays later Monday against Conchita Martinez, who won Wimbledon in 1994 and was the runner-up at the 1998 Australian Open and the 2000 French Open.

Martinez has slipped to No. 39 after an Achilles' tendon injury last year. Serena turned her ankle Friday in a semifinal at a warmup event in Sydney and retired from the match but says the injury won't hold her back in Melbourne.

For Martina Hingis, the Australian Open champion in 1997-99 and a finalist the last two years, Sydney was her first tournament since an ankle injury forced a three-month layoff and she lost the No. 1 ranking after 73 consecutive weeks.

Hingis beat Meghann Shaughnessy of the United States 6-2, 6-3 Saturday to win the Sydney title.

"I think I surprised everyone by coming back and winning this tournament, but I surprised myself the most," Hingis said. "It's great to come back after having surgery, to win straight away."

She'll start Monday against France's Virginie Razzano, who's ranked 88th.

Hingis has not won a Grand Slam tournament since the 1999 Australian Open. A year ago, she beat both Williams sisters before losing to Jennifer Capriati in the final.

This time, Hingis again could meet Serena in the quarterfinals and Venus in the semifinals.

In the other half of the draw, Capriati starts Tuesday against No. 103 Silvia Talaja of Croatia.

"It seems like I never left," said Capriati, whose 2001 Australian Open title was her first at a Grand Slam tournament. She continued her comeback by winning the French Open, and was a semifinalist at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

"The year was just so great for me, it seems like that's why it went so fast," she added.

Capriati said a recent hip injury "has been getting lots of treatment. I feel about 90 percent. It should be OK."

Even without Hingis and the Williams sisters, Capriati said, her side of the draw is tough, with Belgians Kim Clijsters and Henin and Amelie Mauresmo of France.