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Clijsters: US Open title tainted without Serena and Venus
Sun Aug 24, 4:00 PM ET Add Sports - AFP to My Yahoo!

NEW YORK (AFP) - Kim Clijsters hungers for a Grand Slam trophy, but the women's world number one from Belgium admits this year's US Open crown will be a tainted title without Serena and Venus Williams (news - web sites) competing for it.

AFP/File Photo

"That's always going to be said of course, because in the last few Grand Slams they have definitely been somewhat dominant," she said. "For any winner this year there's always going to be a point where they always point that out."

Clijsters and Belgian second seed Justine Henin-Hardenne spoke here Sunday on the eve of the year's final Grand Slam tournament. They are favorites on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts with the Williams sisters injured.

"It's still very early to talk about any 'Belgian final,'" Henin-Hardenne said. "A lot of other players can win this tournament."

Anything less than an all-Belgian final will be a failure for the caretakers of the women's throne, ruling only with six-time Slam winner Serena Williams (news - web sites) out after knee surgery and fourth seed Venus out with a abdominal strain.

"It's going to be tough to win even if Serena and Venus aren't here," said Henin-Hardenne. "I don't feel much pressure. I don't feel like the favorite here. I think Kim is the favorite. She is number one in the world right now.

"On the paper, she is. On the court, we will see."

Clijsters, 20, is the first number one without a Grand Slam title, a status she longs to erase here.

"That would be nice but it takes a lot more than just saying it," Clijsters said. "With Serena and Venus pulling out, a lot of players are definitely believing more in their chances now -- are even extra motivated.

"I don't think it puts any more pressure. There's definitely more attention. But those things are not going to change the way I prepare, the way I feel, the way I look toward my matches."

Henin-Hardenne, 21, beat Clijsters 6-0, 6-4 in the French Open (news - web sites) final and again earlier this month in a San Diego hardcourt final. Clijsters would like the chance to avenge the losses but is not overlooking her half of the draw.

"If you think too far ahead, you probably shouldn't even come to the tournament because you've probably lost already," Clijsters said. "I don't feel comfortable doing that."

Clijsters made a slight growl when told of comments by Pat McEnroe that she had not won a Slam because she was not mean or hungry enough.

"I am who I am. I'm not going to change because he thinks I'm not mean enough," she said. "I don't want to be a mean person. I'd rather be known as a nice person than a mean person."

"And I'm hungry. I didn't have any breakfast this morning so I'm hungry."

Henin-Hardenne is famished as well, longing for the top ranking Clijsters enjoys at the moment.

"It's great motivation that Kim is number one," Henin-Hardenne said. "We're playing for the same thing -- winning a lot of tournaments and being the best player in the world."

This is the only Slam event at which Henin-Hardenne has failed to reach the quarter-finals.

"I've never played well here so I hope this year is going to be different," Henin-Hardenne said. "I'm feeling stronger physically and mentally this year than I have ever been in the past.

"I think my game has improved. I hope it's going to be different. It's very early to say how you are going to play. I'll have to prove it on the court."

Henin-Hardenne opens against Hungarian teen Aniko Kapros, who beat her 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 in the opening round of last year's French Open.

"I was sick last year at the French Open, very sick. This match is going to be different," Henin-Hardenne said. "I'm always very focused on my first match because it's probably the most difficult. But I don't think about what happened last year."

Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne have each won six titles this year, building a rivalry that peaked in San Diego when Clijsters ripped her rival after a tough finals loss.

"Those things got blown out of proportion," Clijsters said. "A lot of people like to create something between us when there's nothing.

"I think there's rivalry. There's no tension. Once we're on the court, we compete against each other. Afterwards we joke and have fun."

Henin-Hardenne put the remarks in perspective, but added a little twist of her own back at Clijsters.

"It's a litle bit stupid to pay attention to it," she said. "Kim was really disappointed. Probably she has some regrets about what she said. I think it was a little bit stupid. But I forgot it. It's in the past.

"I understand sometimes it's hard to lose but she has to accept that."
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