No. 1 player withdraws, still might play in Olympics

Updated: July 22, 2004, 11:25 PM ET
SportsTicker

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 -- Still recovering from a nasty viral infection, defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium has withdrawn from WTA tournaments in San Diego and Montreal the next two weeks.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

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