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Tennis: Justine jolly as compatriot Clijsters tries to kill the pain; LIVE ON EUROSPORT, 12am.

Byline: JAMES PYMAN

US Open heroine Kim Clijsters practises at Melbourne Park despite a hip injury

PUNTERS who have backed Kim Clijsters for the Australian Open face a nervous 24 hours after the Belgian revealed yesterday that she is still struggling with the hip injury she sustained in Sydney on Wednesday.

Clijsters told reporters at a press conference in Melbourne that although she is planning to compete in the first Grand Slam of the year, she will be taking pain-killers throughout the tournament.

The Belgian, who is a bestpriced 1-25 to beat opening opponent Yoon Jeong Cho tonight, had early last night been usurped by compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne at the summit of Betfair's women's outright market - Clijsters was backable at 4.7 while French Open champion Henin-Hardenne was on offer at 4.3.

Clijsters said: "Normally I'm not very big on taking antiinflammatories or pain-killers, but that's definitely something I'll do this tournament.

"I just have to make sure that in my mind I'm ready for being able to play with the pain."

Clijsters could meet Martina Hingis in the quarter-finals and the classy Swiss baseliner, who appeared in six consecutive Melbourne finals between 1997 and 2002, admitted she is nervous as she prepares to play her first Grand Slam match since the 2002 US Open. Hingis, who is 5-6 to defeat first-round foe Vera Zvonareva tonight, said: "It feels different, definitely, to coming here playing in 1995 when I was 15 and fearless.

"Ten years later, you have some butterflies in your stomach. You have to try to throw your nerves behind yourself and just focus on strategy."

The 25-year-old has made a mixed start to her comeback year. She reached the semifinals of the Australian Hardcourt Championship on the Gold Coast in the first week of the season, but lost in the opening round of last week's Sydney International to Henin-Hardenne.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 16, 2006
Words:313
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