SONY ERICSSON OPEN
Clijsters Wins Belgian Battle In Thriller
Kim Clijsters looked headed for a blowout victory against fellow Belgian comeback queen Justine Henin in the Sony Ericsson Open semi-finals Thursday night. A repeat of their third-set tie-break cliffhanger in the first week of the year in Brisbane was the furthest thing from fans’ minds when Clijsters won nine of the first 11 games to lead 6-2, 3-0 with a break point for 4-0.
But ultimately the match did go the distance, with Clijsters needing four match points in a dramatic third-set tie-break to clinch a 6-2, 6-7(3), 7-6(6) win to advance to the final, where she will meet three-time Sony Ericsson Open champion Venus Williams.
Ironically, the third-set tie-break score was the same as it was when Clijsters beat Henin 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(6) in the Brisbane final in the first week of the season.
In truth, the first two sets were not the highest of quality and accounted for the bulk of Clijsters’ match total of 63 unforced errors (including 10 double faults) and Henin’s 44 unforced errors (and eight double faults).
But a spectacular third set more that atoned for the first two, as both players produced some of their best tennis of the year as they engaged in lengthy, powerful baseline exchanges and sharp-angle battles.
Watch Clijsters Interview
There were six service breaks leading up to the third-set tie-break. Serving at 5-6 and deuce, Clijsters found herself two points from defeat but she refused to back away from her aggressive game plan and forced the ‘breaker.
After dropping the first two points, Clijsters won six of the next seven to hold three match points at 6-3, only to be brought undone by her own errors. But at 6-6 she responded with two strokes of brilliance.
First, after a lengthy exchange, Clijsters found herself at net with Henin moving towards a low mid-court ball, which she fired at the body of her opponent. Clijsters reacted instinctively with a cramped double-handed backhand volley that bobbed over the net and fell dead. Then, on her fourth match point, again after a long rally, Clijsters pivoted backwards and nailed a crisp down-the-line forehand that was a winner from the moment it was struck.
Clijsters later said of her reflex volley at 6-all in the tie-break: “Well, that was a lucky shot. I mean, there's no other words for that. You know, probably if we have to play that rally ten times over again that's probably the only time I'll make it. It was a split decision at the time, but luckily I chose the right side.
Remarking on the similarity of her two victories over Henin this year, Clijsters said: “Even about the tiebreak and everything, it was very similar scoring. So I think it's yeah, it's crazy to have two matches like this, this early in the season. I don't know what to say. I mean, I'm just excited that I came out as the winner. It could have gone either way at the end in both matches.
On facing Williams in the final, Clijsters said: “We've had some good battles in the past. I think obviously the last official match we played each other was at the US Open, so that was very up and down match as well. I think we both never really played our best tennis at the same time. You know, Venus is a player that if she's playing her best she's really tough to beat. Then again, I think you always have to believe in your chances."
Henin said: “Well, it's disappointing, of course, to lose this way, even if I've been under pressure a lot in this match and been a lot of ups and downs and Kim gave me the opportunity to come back in the second set. In the end I've played better, but she has been the one who really went for the opportunities."
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