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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 07:25 PM   #1
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Exclamation A Happy, Healthy Clijsters Looks for U.S. Open Repeat

A Happy, Healthy Clijsters Looks for U.S. Open Repeat
Tennis

By TOM PERROTTA
July 31, 2006

When she won the U.S. Open last year, Kim Clijsters at last seemed on the verge of big things.

The 23-year-old Belgian had finally freed herself of the nagging questions about her ability to win a major title. Her left wrist, once so fragile that she feared it would spell the end of her career, had held up nicely through a grueling summer hard-court season in which she posted a 23–1 record with four titles, including the Open. Her personal life was back in order, too, after the end of her relationship with Lleyton Hewitt and the beginning of a better one with Brian Lynch, a former NCAA basketball player now playing pro ball in Belgium (the couple are engaged).

A happy, healthy Clijsters seemed a good bet to take at least a few more Grand Slam titles, even if she wanted to retire after two more seasons to have children and get on with the rest of her life. She got off to a fine start in Australia this year despite back and hip ailments, before suffering a serious ankle injury that forced her to retire against eventual champion Amelie Mauresmo in the semifinals.

Clijsters has not been the same since, or at least until this week, when she at times flashed her old form in defending her title at the Bank of West Classic at Stanford University against Patty Schnyder in a less-than-compelling final, 6–4, 6–2. Clijsters's record now stands at 32–8 with two titles.It's off her pace from last year (67–9, nine titles), but there's time, and based on her performance this week, hope. Come September, the Belgian may yet hoist the U.S. Open trophy again, and perhaps add another $1 million bonus to her bank account if she wins the U.S. Open Series for a second consecutive year.

There is no evidence of any lingering physical effects from Clijsters's ankle turn against Amelie Mauresmo. Yet there is at least anecdotal evidence that Clijsters has changed her tactics since returning from that injury.

At the French Open, ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert suggested that Clijsters had started taking more risks on her groundstrokes, looking for winners rather than chances to lengthen points and frustrate her opponents. Clijsters agreed in an interview, suggesting that it might be better for her longevity if she could learn to end points more quickly.

If Clijsters is looking to end more points, perhaps she has too often crossed the line between aggression and impatience. At her core, the Belgian remains the sort of player who infuriates opponents and causes them to commit errors, while making the most of her opportunities to hit winners when they arise. In tennis, frustration builds gradually, and if Clijsters is unwilling to annoy her opponent point after point, she can begin to look listless. The contest that most comes to mind was her defeat at the hands of Justine Henin-Hardenne in the French Open semifinals. Clijsters declined to scrap and claw her way into the match.

That said, Clijsters's performance in California this week offered some encouraging signs.Against 17-year-old slugger Nicole Vaidisova in the semifinals, Clijsters fell behind by a break of serve before patiently waiting for the aggressive — and error-prone — Czech to misfire. Leading 4–2 in the first set, the teenager double faulted three times.Just as important, however, was the cross-court slice backhand Clijsters hit at deuce, as Vaidisova debated moving to the net. The ball stayed low, and the indecisive Vaidisova eventually flubbed a backhand drop shot as she fell to one knee.Clijsters took a big risk two games later, serving a slice ace on a second serve at set point for Vaidisova. She broke again with a fine service return and a patient rally that ended in a Vaidisova error.

Yesterday, Clijsters did not need to do much more than play steady. Schnyder looked sluggish after having defeated Tatiana Golovin Saturday evening. She repeatedly made poor decisions and horrible mistakes, including a drop shot attempt from 10 feet behind the baseline and a short forehand that should have been a cross-court winner but instead ended as an error down the line. In the point of the match — indeed, perhaps the only good point of the afternoon — Schnyder took control of a long rally, moving Clijsters off the court to her backhand side. The Belgian sliced another fine defensive backhand, and then easily retrieved a Schnyder drop shot and converted it into a backhand down the line winner. Clijsters finished the match with an ace.

At the Acura Classic this week, Clijsters again will play the role of favorite, and another title would put her well on her way to dominating the hard court summer. Venus Williams has dropped out of next week's event (wrist), as has wild card entry Serena Williams (her knee again), and Lindsay Davenport (injured back). (All three of those women are scheduled to appear in Los Angeles the week after next.) Mauresmo and Henin-Hardenne, the two best players in the world at the moment, are not scheduled to return to action until the Rogers Cup in Toronto, which begins August 14.

Clijsters probably won't mind having some time alone on the hard courts, on which she moves better than anyone in the women's game. If she continues to round into form, the U.S. Open ought to be her tournament to win.

***

After an all-American final in Indianapolis last week, the America took a leave of absence from the final weekend of the Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles.

Andre Agassi's recurring back injury responded well to a cortisone shot, but the 36-year-old American took his final bows in the quarterfinals after losing a three-set match to Fernando Gonzalez. Andy Roddick, accompanied by new coach Jimmy Connors, had to forfeit his quarterfinal match because of a back strain. One finalist, Dmitry Tursunov of Russian, is almost American (he has lived in California since age 12).

The home favorite fell short, however, losing to Tommy Haas, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

tperrotta@nysun.com
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 07:59 PM   #2
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well God forbid she meets Justine in another semi or final cause we know how that one all ends
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 08:13 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SAEKeithSerena
well God forbid she meets Justine in another semi or final cause we know how that one all ends
Yeah, that was on clay and grass.... on hardcourt it's different...look at Toronto last year... Kim beat her .....and most important Kim knows that she could beat Justine on hardcourt.....but it's will not be easy ... Justine is playing really well at the moment....but as a Kim fan I have to be positiv
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 08:30 PM   #4
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Justine is in a much, much better form than last year's Toronto...

I hope she can get to the US Open finals. And please no Justine in SF this time!!
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 08:42 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaniKim
Justine is in a much, much better form than last year's Toronto...

I hope she can get to the US Open finals. And please no Justine in SF this time!!
Yeah, that's right.....but as a Kim fan I have to be positiv
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 08:45 PM   #6
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Didn't Kim say she had a back injury at Stanford? I'm sure I read it on this board somewhere

So has she got a back injury or not?
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 09:00 PM   #7
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don't get me wrong, i'd love for kim to win if they had a match-up, and i'd rather see kim in the finals, i'm just saying the results this year against her fellow countrywoman have been the least bit impressive but great job to kim last week, i hope she finds the form that carried her to her 9 titles last year
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 09:10 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Justine Fan
Didn't Kim say she had a back injury at Stanford? I'm sure I read it on this board somewhere

So has she got a back injury or not?
She has chronic problems in her lower back... so, she will always have pain.

And this is what she said:
"I don't want to make excuses because I'm not that type of person, but even in Fed Cup on the last Sunday I had to take painkillers for my back," she said.

"It's been frustrating. I've been working hard to try to get back to where I was. I feel good, but sometimes my back bothers me after matches."
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Old Jul 31st, 2006, 09:12 PM   #9
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I was thinking the other day Id love kim to win the USOpen and to do that she needs to get a few titles under her belt,which I think she will.You can see it when she plays shes just so comfortable on the hard courts and her game is built for it - Id love to see her do well and take the USOpen again.
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 04:54 PM   #10
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Last year Kim was the betting favorite, even though she had never won a major.
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 05:28 PM   #11
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I think Kim can repeat it, but I somehow doubt she will. Rather the Masters this year IMO...
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 05:48 PM   #12
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I think it would be too difficult to beat Sharapova in the Acura final.
I mean, I saw Kim playing against Nikki, and she was too defensive IMO. She waited for Nikki's errors..and they happened especially in the second set. But the first one was very tense and close, and if Nikki had served better, she would have won the first set and maybe the match.
The difference between Nikki and Maria is that Maria is less error-prone, and I personally doubt she will do the same errors as Vaidisova's if she meets Kim. Adding to that Maria hits harder and her shots are more accurate
But after all, I'm not psychic, but it would be tough to make a repeat.
And I do think she can beat JHH on hard. She can make it.
GOOD LUCK KIM
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 06:28 PM   #13
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I'd love to see Kim win the USO again as well. But I'm a tad disappointed with her statement last week to the effect that the US hardcourt season is basically "it" for her. That basically limits her effective season to six weeks and she seems to have self limited her ambition to just that . Evidently the back problem is such that this is the best she can hope for. Dommage!
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Old Aug 1st, 2006, 06:35 PM   #14
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