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Old Aug 25th, 2003, 06:12 AM   #1
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Clijsters, Hewitt play on first day of U.S. Open

Clijsters, Hewitt play on first day of U.S. Open


August 24, 2003
FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) The 2003 U.S. Open gets under way Monday with the reigning champions unable to compete.

Serena Williams won the third of what would become four straight Grand Slam titles here last year, defeating her sister, two-time winner Venus, in the final. Both have not played since Serena beat Venus again in the Wimbledon final as Serena underwent knee surgery earlier this month and Venus has an abdominal muscle injury.

Already the men's leader in Grand Slam titles, Pete Sampras increased his record to 14 with a surprising triumph over long-time rival Andre Agassi in last year's final. Many believed Sampras would retire then, but he left open the door to return. After withdrawing from tournament after tournament this year, he decided to call it quits.


The 32-year-old American will make his retirement official Monday and be honored before the evening session.

Sweethearts Kim Clijsters and Lleyton Hewitt would like to step into the hole left by the absences of the Williams sisters and Sampras.

Hoping to give her No. 1 ranking legitimacy by capturing her first career major, Clijsters plays American wild card Amber Liu. The 20-year-old Belgian, with Serena sidelined, took over the top ranking earlier this month the first woman to do so without a Grand Slam crown.

Clijsters reached at least the semifinals or better in all 14 of her WTA Tour appearances until a third-round loss in Canada to Lina Krasnoroutskaya two weeks ago. She has reached 11 singles finals, winning a tour-tying six titles.

Last month, Clijsters crushed Liu, 6-1, 6-1, en route to winning the title at Stanford. She added another tournament win this summer at Los Angeles.

Seeded sixth, Hewitt encounters Romanian Victor Hanescu in the evening session.

The feisty Australian has reached the semifinals here three straight years, winning his first major in 2001. He captured two hardcourt tournaments earlier this year but has not had the sort of season he is accustomed to and lost the No. 1 ranking he had held for two years to Agassi in July.

Hewitt bounced back from his embarrassing first-round loss to a qualifier at Wimbledon, finishing runner-up at Los Angeles last month. However, he lost in the early rounds at the Tennis Masters Series event in Montreal and Cincinnati this month.

Two claycourt kings looking to prove themselves on cement are in action as third seed and French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain plays Czech Jan Vacek and No. 5 Guillermo Coria faces Argentine Mariano Puerta.

Youngsters Mardy Fish, Robby Ginepri and Taylor Dent are hoping to carry the American mantle with Sampras exiting and Agassi aging. Fish, seeded 24th, battles Sweden's Joachim Johansson, Ginepri goes against Spain's David Ferrer and Dent meets Swede Robin Soderling.

On the women's side, third-seeded Lindsay Davenport, the 1998 winner from the United States, hopes her ailing toe will allow her to take on Belgian Els Callens.

Davenport has battled a nerve ailment in her left foot since the spring. She reached the final last week at New Haven but was forced to retire from her match against Jennifer Capriati with an aggravation of the injury.

The 27-year-old Davenport will undergo surgery after the U.S. Open.

Also, fifth seed Amelie Mauresmo of France plays Angelique Widjaja of Indonesia, eighth-seeded American Chanda Rubin faces Maria Vento-Kabchi of Venezuela and No. 9 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia encounters former junior champion Marion Bartoli of France.
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