Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clijsters Survives Hingis In Three

Don't tell rating U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters that Martina Hingis' comeback isn't serious. In a competitive Australian Open quarterfinal, the second seeded Belgian edged Hingis in three sets 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 at Rod Laver Arena Wednesday.

The former three time Australian champ had yet to face a top 10 player during her run to the quarters. Not used to the kind of power Clijsters generated, Hingis quickly was broken twice in the first set to trail 4-0. Hingis finally got on the board with a break of her own. After holding for 2-4, she applied some pressure to Clijsters' serve in the seventh game but Clijsters held for 5-2 and eventually served out the set.

Early in the second set, Clijsters continued to dictate points from the baseline with some top heavy groundstrokes from both sides of the racket which produced 35 winners. to just 19 for her opponent. In the opening game, she broke Hingis for the third time and then held for 2-0. Seemingly in control, Clijsters earned two more break points in Hingis' next service game. But the resilient Hingis bravely fought them off and held to get back in the match.

Remarkably, the set swung in Hingis' favor when Clijsters started making a cluster of unforced errors, mostly from the backhand side. She finished with 18 more unforced errors than her opponent- Clijsters- 49 Hingis - 31.

Suddenly used to Clijsters' pace, Hingis was able to get more balls back and throw in some topspin to throw Clijsters' rhythm off. Getting her to overhit shots long, Hingis broke Clijsters three times, winning the last six games of the set to force a deciding third.

After Clijsters reestablished some momentum breaking Hingis for a 1-0 lead in the final set, a determined Hingis broke back in the sixth game to level the match three all. But Clijsters again surged ahead 4-3 with her fifth break. After she held for a 5-3 lead, she earned two match points in the ninth game but Hingis fought both off and held to force Clijsters to serve it out.

Clijsters won the last four points without trouble. When Hingis returned a forehand long, Clijsters finally had her victory to advance to a semifinal against third seeded Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo. Mauresmo defeated seventh seeded Swiss Patty Schnyder 6-3, 6-0.

For Clijsters, the win allowed her to become the number one player in the world- overtaking American Lindsay Davenport, who fell Tuesday night to Justine Henin-Hardenne in three sets 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. Henin-Hardenne will take on fourth seeded Russian Maria Sharapova in the other semifinal.

"After the year I had last year, this is the cherry on the cake," Clijsters said during a postmatch interview. "It was never a goal. Keep working hard and good things happen."

For Hingis, though she fell short, she walked off the court to a standing ovation.

"I can be proud. You just can't think you're going to go out there and win everything," she said. "I lost only 6-4 in the third against the No. 1 player, so I don't think it's that bad. You think I'm going to give up right now?"

Clijsters complimented the former number one player.

"It was fun to see how motivated she is- she's very professional and puts in a lot of work. As long as you keep doing that, it pays off. She definitely has a lot of talent in the game."

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