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Another letdown for Clijsters

Just like two years ago, Belgian suffers defeat in final


PARIS, June 7 — On her last day as a teenager, Kim Clijsters took yet another French Open letdown like a grown-up. Two years ago, Clijsters lost the longest third set in a women’s final at Roland Garros, and on Saturday she lost the most lopsided final in 15 years. But she greeted Justine Henin-Hardenne at the net with a warm smile after her Belgian compatriot won the title, 6-0, 6-4.

“I WASN’T EVEN CLOSE to playing my best tennis today,” the No. 2-seeded Clijsters said. “But I’m happy for Justine that she won.”

They’ve been friendly rivals for so long that Clijsters can’t remember the first time they played each other — possibly in a 10-and-under event. She had won seven of their 12 matches as pros but was no match for Henin-Hardenne in the first all-Belgian Grand Slam final.
Clijsters, who turns 20 Sunday, was less patient and less consistent than Henin-Hardenne. Clijsters didn’t move as well, and when she became frustrated that Henin-Hardenne was getting so many balls back, she tried for too much and sprayed her shots.
The four games Clijsters won were the fewest for a French Open finalist since Steffi Graf beat Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in 1988.
She said jitters were not the problem.
“I was nervous a little more than normal, but not that it was influencing me on my tennis,” Clijsters said. “In this tournament I haven’t played my best tennis, but I still went through to the finals, which is a good sign.”
At 17 in 2001, Clijsters was two points from winning the title against Jennifer Capriati before losing the longest third set in a French Open women’s final, 12-10.
This time Clijsters played 31 minutes and 51 points before winning a game.
“I’m disappointed,” she said, still smiling an hour after her defeat. “But hopefully I’ll get another chance, and I’ll try to do better next time.”
Twice in the first set, Henin-Hardenne fell behind love-40 when serving. Each time she erased three break points to win the game.
“When I was 3-love down, it could have been 3-love to me,” Clijsters said. “She was getting all the balls back. Maybe a few of those points I tried to go for a little too much.”

With boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt shouting encouragement from behind the baseline, Clijsters finally earned her only service break to make it 4-all in the second set. But Henin-Hardenne won eight of the final 10 points to close the victory, then gave Clijsters a hug at the net and a consoling pat on the shoulder.
“She’s very, very strong,” Henin-Hardenne said. “We’ll see her again for sure in finals of other Grand Slams.”
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