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Molik targets spot in top 40

By MELISSA WOODS and DARREN WALTON

Alicia Molik flew the Australian flag as compatriot Richard Fromberg crashed out in the first round of the $1.7million adidas International tennis tournament at Homebush Bay yesterday.

Molik upset the higher-ranked American Meghann Shaughnessy 6-1 7-6 (7-1).

But Fromberg fell to sixth-seeded Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

The 19-year-old from Adelaide recovered from two service breaks down in the second set to oust the in-form Shaughnessy and book a showdown with fourth-seeded Spaniard Conchita Martinez.

Shaughnessy, ranked 30th, beat Martinez in the quarterfinals at last week's Australian Women's Hardcourt championships on the Gold Coast.

Molik said she had overcome a niggling shoulder injury which had prevented her from playing a tournament since October, resulting in her ranking slipping from 79 to 116.

``I'm feeling fitter and I am really ready to stamp my mark. Definitely the next two years is the time to get stuck into it,'' Molik said.

``I'm sure (my ranking) can jump 50 to 60 spots in the year. It'd be great if I could be in the top 40 at the end of the year.''

Fromberg's indifferent opening to the year began in Perth at the Hopman Cup last week where he and Nicole Pratt failed to win a tie for Australia.

Grosjean consistently found his range from the baseline yesterday and often troubled Fromberg with delicate drop-shots.

Fromberg, ranked No88, squandered a prize opportunity to take the rain-interrupted first set but was broken when serving at 5-3.

The 30-year-old baseliner remained upbeat, though, and already had his sights set on the Australian Open in Melbourne next week and Australia's Davis Cup tie against Ecuador in Perth in February.

``It was a little bit disappointing, but not too bad. I didn't hit the ball bad,'' the lanky Tasmanian said.

``I obviously had my chances in the first set and in the second set I had a few, but my shot selection could have been a little better, that's all.''

Fromberg felt the early exit could be a blessing in disguise, allowing him to head immediately to Melbourne to practice on the slower courts, where he hoped a good showing would help him regain a place in the Davis Cup team.

``At the moment it seems like everything's pretty open,'' Fromberg said.

``It just depends on who's playing well at the time, so the Aussie Open is obviously probably the biggest tournament of the year for me.''

In other men's first-round matches yesterday, Italian Gianluca Pozzi upset eighth seed Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco 7-5 6-4, Frenchman Fabrice Santoro defeated Germany's David Prinisol 6-3 6-3, and fellow German Rainer Schuttler downed Czech Slava Dosedel 6-3 3-6 6-3.

In the women's draw, Jennifer Capriati eliminated Russian Tatiana Panova 6-4 3-6 6-1, American qualifier Brie Rippner upset Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-0 6-7 (4-7) 6-3, Barbara Schett beat Gala Leon Garcia 6-2 6-4, and Lisa Raymond downed Nadedja Petrova 6-2 6-1.