January 6, 2006

Aust. Open organizers confident Sharapova will play

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Open organizers are confident
Maria Sharapova will play at the first grand slam of the year
despite her withdrawal from a lead-up event.

The Russian has not played since November last year because
of a shoulder problem and was in doubt for the Open after
pulling out of this week's Australian women's hardcourt
championship on the Gold Coast.

But a tournament spokesman said organizers were still
expecting her to play in Melbourne after her management called
them on Friday to say she would be arriving in Australia on
Sunday.

"Her management contacted us to arrange a pick-up on her
arrival so that's a fair indication," the spokesman said.

News of Sharapova's pending arrival in Australia is a
welcome relief for tournament organizers after four-times
champion Andre Agassi announced on Thursday he was pulling out
because of an ankle injury.

Marat Safin, the reigning men's champion, is in serious
doubt because of a long-term knee injury while French Open
champion Rafael Nadal is in danger because of a foot problem
that forced him to pull out of next week's Sydney
International.