Top stars hope to hone game

August 21, 2006 02:53 PM

New Haven, Conn. (AP) --
Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin-Hardenne have something in common as they begin play in the Pilot Pen -- the need for more matches.

Because of injuries, neither has played in a tournament since Mauresmo defeated Henin-Hardenne in the Wimbledon finals on July 9, and both are eager to show up in game shape for next week's U.S. Open.

Mauresmo, the top-ranked player in the world and top seed in New Haven, withdrew from a Montreal tournament last week because of a right shoulder strain. She said she hurt her shoulder two weeks ago and stopped practicing her serve for 10 days.

Her plans to play in the Fed Cup after Wimbledon were derailed when she injured an abductor muscle during the championship match against Henin-Hardenne.

``I was a little frustrated I couldn't go to the Montreal tournament,'' Mauresmo said Sunday. ``I had played great the last couple of times I went there, but that's just the way it is and you have take things on as they come. But the fact is now I really need some matches and need some practice as well. By having a couple of matches here, Ill be able to ready and 100 percent for the U.S. Open.''

Henin-Hardenne, the reigning French Open champ, withdrew from San Diego in July and like Mauresmo was supposed to play in Montreal, but pulled out because of a recurring right knee injury.

``It's been a long break,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ``You need matches and you need some rhythm. Even if you are practicing good you never know what to expect, so I'm just waiting for a couple of matches before the Open. That's what I need.''

It would be the first time she has played in all four majors since 2003. First she has to get through the Pilot Pen and though she said is a little fatigued physically because of jet lag, mentally she is prepared.

``I just arrived from Europe two days ago, so I still need a little bit more time to get used to the conditions here,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ``The good thing is I had a very long break, so mentally I came in very fresh. That's the important thing.''

Both Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne have byes in the first round.

Top seed James Blake, who grew up in nearby Fairfield said Sunday he is both mentally and physically ready to defend his Pilot Pen men's title.

Ranked fifth, Blake is the highest ranked American player in the world and has six career victories. Last year he entered the Pilot Pen, a combined men's and women's event, as a wild card. He is expected to play his first match Tuesday night.

``I like being the top seed a little better,'' Blake said with a laugh. ``It's been a crazy ride the last year, but it seems like my whole career has been little roller-coasters. Some peaks and valleys along the way and this seems like a peak. I hope I'm still moving upward.''

In men's first-round matches Sunday, Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland defeated Spain's Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4; Andreas Seppi of Italy defeated Germany's Bjorn Phau 6-1, 6-1; Arnaud Clement of France defeated fellow countryman Florent Serra, 6-4, 6-1; and Nicolas Mahut of France defeated Italy's Daniele Bracciali 7-5, 7-6 (2).

In women's play, Na Li of China defeated Russia's Maria Kirilenko 6-1, 6-2, and Tatiana Golovin, of France, beat Australian Alicia Molik 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3.