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Clijsters within reach of becoming No. 1 women's player

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Associated Press


CARSON, Calif. -- The talented Russian teenagers keep coming, and Kim Clijsters sends them away with punishing ground strokes and post-victory kisses on each cheek.


Clijsters defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals of the JPMorgan Chase Open on Friday, putting the Belgian two victories away from overtaking injured Serena Williams as the world's top-ranked woman.


Clijsters outlasted Maria Sharapova 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 Thursday, then pronounced the 16-year-old Russian "an incredible player. She can go all the way. It's just a matter of being consistent."


That wasn't a problem for Clijsters, who won nine straight games over the first and second sets to put away Kuznetsova, an 18-year-old best known as Martina Navratilova's doubles partner.


"Kim plays so consistently, which makes it so hard to play her," Kuznetsova said. "She's one of the best players because of that. Other players aren't as consistent. They go up and down, but Kim doesn't do that."


The top-seeded Clijsters advanced to Saturday's semifinals against No. 16 Francesca Schiavone of Italy, who beat qualifier Nicole Pratt 6-2, 6-3. Clijsters needs to win the tournament to become No. 1 for the first time in her career.


Clijsters looked surprised when informed she could be No. 1 by Monday. She thought she had to accumulate certain bonus points to ascend -- until a WTA Tour official assured her otherwise.

"I just want to focus on my next match and then we'll see," said Clijsters, who has yet to win a Grand Slam title. "I just hope I can keep my level up and play good tennis. That will be more satisfying."


The 64-player field was weakened by the withdrawals of Williams, who had knee surgery last week, and defending champion Chanda Rubin (shoulder tendinitis).


So far this year, Clijsters has avoided the injuries that have sidelined several top players, including Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati. She wore a wrap on her right thigh to protect a tight muscle.


No. 2 Lindsay Davenport played eighth-seeded Amanda Coetzer in a night match.


Kuznetsova lamented her missed chances in the first set, saying she didn't get to sleep until 2 a.m.


"I couldn't concentrate, and then I didn't keep fighting," she said.


Clijsters, whose tenacity makes her one of the best defensive players on the tour, couldn't fathom the idea.


"I would never give up fighting," she said.


Against Sharapova on Thursday, Clijsters performed several of her signature full split-and-slide moves chasing down balls. Kuznetsova didn't make her run much at all.


"She was just rallying and not making me move that much," Clijsters said. "It was good for me because I felt I could dictate. She's still young -- and they're all so young."
 
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