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Russian faces Capriati as injury fells Pierce


Mary Pierce's comeback bid was thrown off track once again when she retired with a hamstring injury during last night's semi-final against Russia's Elena Dementieva, ending the hopes of a dream final against American Jennifer Capriati at the Hong Kong Ladies Challenge.

Two-time Grand Slam winner Pierce had been expected to take her place in today's final against Capriati, who earlier beat South Africa's Amanda Coetzer 6-2, 6-3. But the 26-year-old Frenchwoman, who looked in fine shape in her straight-sets defeat of Austria's Barbara Schett on Wednesday, threw in the towel after conceding the first set 6-1.

Pierce, who was making a comeback after a season ravaged by a series of injuries, had her left thigh heavily strapped going into the semi-final, severely restricting her movement as the world number 15 from Moscow took full advantage by racing to a first-set lead. Then the drama unfolded at the changeover. Pierce sat down and indicated to the chair umpire she could not continue, leaving a surprised look on Dementieva's face.

Pierce was still in high spirits at the post-match press conference despite her latest setback. "It just needs time to heal and I think it will be better. I'm not really looking at it as a setback. My hamstring needs a couple of days rest," said Pierce, whose ranking has plummeted to 130th in the world.

"I felt my hamstring getting tight against Barbara [Schett] a few days ago. After a while it gets tight. It felt tight during the last couple of days. I had this problem four or five years ago as well."

Dementieva, 20, was happy to reach the final but sad the match ended the way it did. "I didn't know she was carrying an injury before the match. But I knew she couldn't move. She didn't run. I was happy to play her. I have watched her play on TV for years. It's the second time Mary had to retire from a game against me," said Dementieva, who also won by default against the Frenchwoman in a tournament in Miami in 2000. Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn and Russia's Lina Krasnoroutskaya stepped in to play an exhibition match to fill in the time slot left after last night's truncated semi-final.

"It was tough for her to come back after so many months away. I think she was nervous. But it's good to be in the final against Jennifer," said the Russian.