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Tennis Truce: Henin-Hardenne Welcomes Good Relations With Clijsters

Photo By Cyntia Lum By Richard Pagliaro

Top-ranked Kim Clijsters and second-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne have known each other since childhood and Henin-Hardenne believes its time both Belgians — and members of their camps — grow up and keep their clashes confined to the court rather than continue recent verbal volleys in the media.

The all-Belgian U.S. Open final between Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters concluded earlier this month with Henin-Hardenne conquering her compatriot for the second time in a Slam final this season. Today, as the reigning Roland Garros champion prepared to play her first match since the U.S. Open, at the Sparkassen Cup in Leipzig, Germany, she stressed her desire to develop a good relationship with Clijsters.

"I have no problems with what has happened in the past. I said everything I wanted to say and Kim deserves to be number one," Henin-Hardenne told the media in Leipzig. "We are mature enough to go on court or on tour together and say it's in the past and we will do that. We will have to travel a lot together and it's better to have a good relationship. I want to concentrate on what I want to do."

Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne grew up 14 miles apart and came together to lead Belgium to its first Fed Cup championship and are now separated by only 320 points in the rankings, yet their rivalry and continued controversial comments appeared to be driving the pair further apart.

After falling to Henin-Hardenne in the Acura Classic final, Clijsters intimated that an injury time-out Henin-Hardenne took may have been a tactical ploy to catch her breath and regroup for the rest of the match. Following Henin-Hardenne's victory over Clijsters in the U.S. Open final some media reports interpreted comments from Leo Clijsters, Kim's father, about Henin-Hardenne's physique as veiled references to possible doping.

In clarifying his comments, Mr. Clijsters chastised the media for "trying to create a controversy around Justine and Kim."

"Have we gotten too used to two Belgian girls doing well? So the sport itself isn't enough to write about anymore?" Leo Clijsters said in a statement. "First there was that so called 'blisters' affair, now we've reached another pathetic low with this talk about Justine. And then they try to blame me! I simply replied to the question why Kim keeps on losing to Justine and why we don't consult a sports psychologist (another silly question...): 'Don't you see Justine has gotten a lot stronger, that she serves better which means it's only normal she's the winner?' I don't think that's such a strange comment. Justine has worked very hard these past few months, which means that when she wins, it's thanks to her hard work. If she keeps working and playing like that, I expect she'll often beat Kim and the others."

Henin-Hardenne has set her sights on succeeding Clijsters as the top-ranked woman in the world. Admitting she was "disappointed" by some comments from the Clijsters camp, Henin-Hardenne stressed their rivalry is rooted in respect rather than revilement

"I was a little disappointed with some of the things which she said and I think everyone can understand that," said Henin-Hardenne, who is scheduled to play Denisa Chladkova in her opening-round match. "But I think she was probably disappointed after losing to me and I understand that. Everyone has to understand that there is a lot of pressure on both of us and it's not always easy to deal with the situation."

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