Williams to face Clijsters in final
Posted: Saturday February 15, 2003 3:12 PM
ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) -- Venus Williams of the United States coasted to a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Slovak Daniela Hantuchova on Saturday, securing a Diamond Games final against Belgian world No. 3 Kim Clijsters.
The American, ranked second in the world behind her sister Serena, had little difficulty defeating fourth-seeded Hantuchova in the second semifinal. Clijsters topped fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 7-6 (3) earlier.
Williams will be going for her second straight title in Antwerp in her bid to own the diamond-encrusted trophy valued at US$870,000.
"I feel really good with my service games," Williams said. "I'm focused and strong, so I guess I am ready for the final."
Williams started with two blistering serves -- one of which reached 183 kph (113.72 mph) -- against Hantuchova, who could do little in response.
The American tennis superstar made a quick and impressive first stand against the Slovakian world No. 5, taking the first set easily.
While Hantuchova tried to trick Williams in a short and long volley return, it only pushed Williams to respond with harder and tougher backhand returns.
Williams, who almost slipped on the slippery purple, hard-canvas court surface, caused several oohs and aahs in the capacity 14,000 crowd, but recovered in time to return a volley from the Slovak with ease.
Hantuchova tried to answer the powerful Williams serve, clocking a 158 kph (98.18 mph) serve that went right past the American, pushing Williams down 2-1 early in the second set. But Williams answered right back in similar fashion, taking back four straight games before Hantuchova finally clawed her way back to 4-5.
Williams, however, was too much for the Slovak.
In the other semifinal, Clijsters moved quickly to take the first set, capitalizing on solid backhands against her Belgian compatriot.
But Henin-Hardenne, ever the fighter, came back late in the second set, storming to tie Clijsters 6-6. A resurgent Clijsters gave Henin-Hardenne no chance in the tie-break, taking it 7-3.
"I am happy to be through," said Clijsters, who was applauded by her fiancee and men's world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt. "I was a bit sick yesterday, this match was better than against Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinal."
Henin-Hardenne lost her last showdown with Clijsters in Sydney, Australia, in January, 6-2, 6-3, and failed again to break her Belgian rival, who moved effortlessly across the court to return every volley.
As defending champion, Williams has most at stake this weekend. She won the inaugural edition of the US$585,000 event last year and is closing in on the ultimate target -- the trophy goes to the first player to win the event three times in any five-year span.
Asked if it would bother her that she would be playing Clijsters on her home turf, Williams said she took it all in stride.
"It does not bother me," Williams said. "In playing at home Kim has to feel good that the whole country is behind her."
Both Williams and Clijsters have yet to lose a set this week and are expected to offer a thrilling final. The trophy, a golden racket, has diamonds all over the handle, alongside the frame and all over a tennis ball fixed in the middle.