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First Rate: Clijsters Downs Davenport To Earn Top Spot


Photo By Cynthia Lum By Brad Falkner
08/10/2003

Claiming the number one ranking was a piece a cake for Kim Clijsters, at least it was afterward, as JP Morgan Chase Open tournament director Gus Sampras presented Clijsters with a giant cake to celebrate her status as the new world number one.



Savoring the sweetest victory of her career — a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 win over former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport in today’s final — Clijsters can enjoy much more than a sugar high as she surpasses Serena Williams for the top spot when the new WTA Tour rankings are released tomorrow.

Clijsters showed that she can slice and serve more than just tennis balls, patiently cutting the cake into pieces for the media on hand for the post match celebration. Clijsters even served cake to a small gathering of fans waiting outside the media tent. The energetic Clijsters has reached the top of tennis in both singles and doubles and was overjoyed at her achivement.

"It’s an incredible feeling! It’s a feeling that I’ve never had before, it’s something that’s really hard to describe too in a way," Clijsters said. "What makes it even more special is that been able to be number one in doubles this week and in singles too. And no one will ever take that away from no matter what will happen in the rest of my career."

The 20-year-old Belgian becomes the 12th player to hold the No. 1 ranking since the ranking system began in 1975. She is the first woman to ascend to the top without winning a Grand Slam title.

At the outset of today’s match, Clijsters played with the focus that will make her a formidable force in Flushing Meadows. The pair took the court having split their 12 career meetings, but Clijsters distinguished herself from Davenport in playing a brilliant first set. Timing Davenport’s drives with precision, Clijsters countered with crisp crosscourt forehand winners and penetrating backhands to take the first set in 26 minutes.

. "I think that it was great that I started off well," Clijsters said. "That really motivated me to keep going. I felt like I was hitting the ball well and doing what I needed to do to beat her."

Determined not to repeat last week’s straight-set semifinal setback to Clijsters, Davenport played with something to prove in the second set, racing out to a 3-0 lead. Changing up the pace to slow Davenport’s dominance of the rallies, Clijsters re-grouped with her own three-game run that evened the set. In the critical seventh game, a determined Davenport fought off four break points with winners to take a 4-3 lead. Empowered by the hold, Davenport broke Clijsters’ serve in the next game then served out the set at 6-3.

"In the second set she played really well," Clijsters said. "She raised her first-serve percentage which made it a lot tougher for me to break her."

After a 10 minute extreme heat break, Clijsters came out smoking. In the decisive set, Clijsters was down right dominant, dropping only nine points in claiming the final set in 17 minutes. In the fourth game, Davenport aggravated her recurring left toe injury that limited her mobility as Clijsters elevated her level of play.

&Quot;At 3-1deuce it (the pain) came on really sharp," Davenport said. "I had already put myself in a deep enough hole at that point, I don’t want to read to much into the foot coming up at the very end of the match. She was playing a lot better in the third. She didn’t make many errors in that set, her balls were a little more penetrating and I never got on top of the points in that third set."

Clijsters ability to earn early breaks enabled her to race out to leads in the first and last sets and reduced Davenport to runner-up status again. She has won one of her last eight finals.

"The first and third sets I basically gave them away in the first two games of both sets," Davenport said. "She got off to good starts — there’s no question, she started the first and third sets off well. You gotta stay in there in the beginning especially against the top girls and not let them build a lead."
 
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