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Davenport WDs, Venus Upset

An awkward move during practice, a sudden wrenching pain in the lower back, and No. 1-ranked Lindsay Davenport joined the growing list of top women tennis players with injuries heading into the French Open.

The 23-year-old American pulled out of the Italian Open before the third round Thursday after suffering what tournament officials called an acute low-back strain while hitting a forehand during a morning warm-up.

"My back just locked up on me. And I went to see the trainer and it's just, you know, really, really sore right now," said Davenport, grimacing and walking stiffly a few hours later.

Davenport said she hoped to be OK in time for the clay court Grand Slam event that opens in Paris in just over a week, but that it was too soon to be certain.

Later, the tournament lost its defending champion when third-seeded Venus Williams was beaten by 17-year-old Australian Jelena Dokic 6-1, 6-2.

It was Williams' fourth match back from a six-month layoff from tendinitis in her wrists. Consoled by her mother, Williams could be seen crying briefly after the loss.

Third-round play saw second-seeded Nathalie Tauziat and fifth-seeded Monica Seles advance to the quarterfinals of the clay-court tournament. Tauziat squeaked by Magdalena Grzybowska 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), and Seles beat Anne Gaelle Sidot of France 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.

Among the losers were fourth-seeded Mary Pierce, falling to No. 12 Amelie Mauresmo 6-3, 6-4, and seventh-seeded Julie Halard Decugis, downed 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 by Fabiola Zuluaga.

Davenport was making her debut at Foro Italico and her first appearance since April after winning the Australian Open in January and Wimbledon last year.

Thursday's back trouble was her first in about five years, she said.

"I haven't had a problem with it. It came on totally by surprise," she said.

With that "intense, sharp pain," injuries made a clean sweep of the three top players Davenport, Martina Hingis and Conchita Martinez/a>.

Hingis and Martinez both skipped the Italian Open after hurting themselves in the German Open. Anna Kournikova tore an ankle ligament in the same tournament and skipped Rome as well.

Serena Williams went on the sick list a month ago with a bad knee.

The spate of twists, sprains and wrenches devastated the field for the $1.08 million Italian Open, a warm-up for the French Open that starts May 29.

"You want your best players in that tournament. You want them in every tournament," said Chris De Maria, spokesman for the Sanex WTA Tour. "It's the normal bumps and bruises only Kournikova looks like it may be serious."

The competition-crippling injuries add to a spring season that saw the German Open's tournament director blast the WTA and marketing company IMG for the paltry field of top players.

"A field like this year can't happen again," Eberhard Wensky said Sunday.

None of the five injured have taken their names off the list for the French Open. All hope to make it, and make clear they don't plan on any preliminary tournament play that jeopardizes that.

"I just hope that it gets better in time for Paris," said Davenport, who planned to stay in Rome for what she hoped would be brief treatment. "Hopefully in the next few days it will loosen up, I'll be able to start practicing and begin my preparations for Paris next week."

Davenport had been slated to play Italy's Giulia Casoni, who advanced to the quarterfinals.

Spain's Arantxa Sanchez Vicario rolled 6-1, 6-4 over Denisa Chladkova of the Czech Republic. It was the second win in 14 hours for Sanchez Vicario, seeded sixth, who played a night match Wednesday.

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