Struggling Safina booted from first round

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(Reuters) - Former world number one Dinara Safina suffered another early exit from a grand-slam event when she was beaten 6-3 6-4 by Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday.

The Russian, who has slipped 49 places to number 50 in the space of 12 injury-hit months, fought hard but was dumped out after a battle lasting one hour, 46 minutes.

Since losing in the third round at Flushing Meadows last year, Safina has been beset by lower-back problems that have badly affected her confidence and movement.

She was forced to retire from her last-16 match at the Australian Open in January and has spent more than three months off the tour since.

The Russian showed signs of form last week in the warm-up event in New Haven, where she beat Hantuchova but in the hot conditions on Louis Armstrong Court on Monday, she was always second best against the 24th seed.

Her second serve lacked power and Hantuchova took full advantage, breaking Safina three times on her way to a 5-1 lead in the opening set.

But the Slovakian faltered when serving for the set and Safina fought back to 5-3 before Hantuchova held serve to take the opening set.

In the second set, Safina showed more of the form that had taken her to three grand-slam finals and, after slipping behind 5-3, she had two chances to level at 5-5.

But Hantuchova held firm and finally clinched victory when a Safina return drifted long. She will play the winner of the all-American clash between Vania King and Christina McHale.

Editing by Frank Pingue