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No. 1 player withdraws, still might play in Olympics

7/22/2004

CARSON, Calif. -- Still recovering from a nasty
viral infection, defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne of
Belgium has withdrawn from WTA tournaments in San Diego and
Montreal the next two weeks.

"I was advised by my doctors to wait yet again to return to
competition," Henin-Hardenne said in a statement released
Tuesday. "As you can imagine, I am thoroughly disappointed.

"The past four months have been challenging. I have worked hard
to try and get back onto the court as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, however, my body just needs more rest. The only
thing I can say is that I wish everyone the best of luck in San
Diego and Montreal. I love both of these tournaments and hope
to be back there next year."

Henin-Hardenne finished last year as the top player in the world
after capturing eight titles, including Grand Slam crowns at
the French Open and U.S. Open and the WTA Tour Championships.

However, the 22-year-old Belgian lost in the second round of
this year's French Open and was forced to pull out of Wimbledon
last month.

Despite the temporary setback, Henin-Hardenne continues to take
steps toward recovery and could return at next month's Olympics
in Athens.

"Her health condition is going in the right direction,"
longtime coach Carlos Rodriguez said on the player's Web site.
"For a couple of days now, Justine is feeling much better. She
has less problems focusing on things and her moments of weakness
are disappearing.

"Those are encouraging signs, that's for sure. We see light at
the end of the tunnel, but with this virus, we still can't be
certain. We stay cautious, hoping she'll be recovered before
the Olympics start."

Maria Sanchez Lorenzo will replace Henin-Hardenne in the main
draw in San Diego, and Spanish countrywoman Virginia Ruano
Pascual moves into her spot in Montreal.

On Thursday, Henin-Hardenne, Kim Clijsters and eight other Grand Slam title winners headed the list of the 104 women granted direct entry to the U.S. Open field. The draw will be Aug. 25.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.