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tennisIlove09
Apr 3rd, 2005, 01:10 AM
Comeback Kim Conquers Sharapova To Claim Second Straight Title In Miami
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Photo By Fred Mullane By Richard Pagliaro
04/03/2005

Kim Clijsters continues to commit her heart and sole to every match. Seemingly shedding slivers of her sneaker soles with her speedy sprints, skids and splits, Clijsters is a tennis contortionist who exudes extreme effort and an elastic ability to stretch herself to wide shots.


Covering more territory than the Rickenbacker Causeway that connects Key Biscayne to Miami, the quick-footed Clijsters shrunk the wind-swept court to the size of a sandbox in running Maria Sharapova right out of the Nasdaq-100 Open final.

Playing tenacious tennis from the very first point, Clijsters continued her compelling comeback in conquering the second-seeded Sharapova, 6-3, 7-5, to capture her second consecutive tournament title and stretch her winning streak to 14 matches.

It has been a remarkable run for Clijsters, who has claimed two of the three events she’s entered since returning to tournament tennis after recovering from surgery to her left wrist. Clijsters did not drop a set in her seven tournament triumphs, scoring straight sets wins over Sandra Kloesel and six seeded players — 24th-seeded Amy Frazier, 12th-seeded Nathalie Dechy, 5th-seeded Anastasia Myskina, 4th-seeded Elena Dementieva, top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo and the second-seeded Sharapova — to become the first unseeded champion in Nasdaq-100 Open history.

Ranked outside the top 130 three weeks ago, Clijsters has rocketed up the rankings by claiming consecutive Tier I championships. She has won 28 of the 30 sets she’s played during her winning streak and has beaten six of the world’s top 12 players this season, including a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over top-ranked Lindsay Davenport in last month’s Pacific Life Open final.

Rain interrupted play twice today and Clijsters was able to weather the thunder strikes from Sharapova’s racquet by repeatedly running down the blasts and forcing the Wimbledon winner to hit one more shot. Breaking serve in the sixth game, Clijsters held for 5-2 before another rain delay stalled play.

The slow hard-court surface benefited Clijsters, who can defend as well as any woman in the world. Serving for the set in the ninth game, Clijsters pushed a forehand deep to face double break point at 15-40. Saving the first break point with a forehand down the line, she guided another forehand winner down line to draw even at deuce. Clijsters’ legs carried her to set point as Sharapova netted a running backhand before short-arming a forehand into the net as Clijsters collected the first set.

When it comes to power baseline tennis, Sharapova has few peers. Sharapova and Davenport are the best ball strikers in women’s tennis, who are equally lethal off both backhand and forehand. When Sharapova has time to set her feet and put her weight behind her shots, opponents can find themselves feeling like they’re targets at the wrong end of a shooting gallery. But when Sharapova is forced to hit on the move she is not nearly as dangerous.

Rather than trying to trade baseline blasts with a bigger hitter, Clijsters wisely took some pace off her shots, played high-percentage heavy topspin strokes to navigate the windy conditions safely and moved Sharapova around the court forcing the 6-foot-Russian to strike shots from unsettled positions where she struggled to generate her typical pace.

While Sharapova is certainly not slow, she can’t come close to matching Clijsters’ court coverage. Clijsters took the 17-year-old Sharapova out of her comfort zone by running her laterally and occasionally luring her to net with short-angled shots. Sharapova is still a work in progress in the front court and looked awkward at times when she wasn’t approaching on her teams.

In the seventh game of the second set, Clijsters confounded Sharapova with her rapid retrievals. She lofted a lob that landed a few feet over the net. Sharapova moved in for the kill but slapped an overhead back to the ad side where Clijsters was waiting to flick another lob that soared over Sharapova’s head. Defending with determination, Clijsters eventually turned defense into offense to break serve for 4-3 and ignite a streak of seven straight points that saw her take a 5-3 lead.

Serving for the match, Clijsters stumbled in a rare mis-step and Sharapova pounced with a forehand return winner down the line to earn break point. Stepping inside the baseline, Sharapova slammed an inside-out backhand winner off a soft second serve to forge a 5-5 tie.

It was a temporary reprieve, however, as Sharapova brain-cramped attempting a drop shot in the next game and knocked her fist into the side of her head as if trying to shake some sense into her shot selection. On the third break point, Sharapova netted a backhand to hand Clijsters a 6-5 lead. This time, Clijsters closed it out to take the title.

The woman who underwent wrist surgery less than a year ago is finding a new way to rehab — raising heavy title trophies — and is understandably pleased with her progress.