Clijsters doubles the odds of a Belgian fairy tale

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The Independent Online

The golden era in Belgian tennis is in full swing. Today Justine Henin plays in the singles final, and tomorrow her compatriot Kim Clijsters will play her first women's doubles final and her second final at Wimbledon in two years.

Clijsters, a beaten finalist alongside Lleyton Hewitt in last year's mixed doubles final, yesterday partnered the world's top-ranked female doubles player Ai Sugiyama to a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the French Open champions Virginia Ruano-Pascual and Paola Suarez.

It is only the second time the Belgian has played with the Japanese talent. The first was last summer in San Diego when both found their regular partners on the treatment table. Despite losing in the first round, they enjoyed the experience and decided to team up with effect from Wimbledon.

"It's my best result ever in [women's] doubles," Clijsters said. "It's nice. We laugh on the court, we make jokes. It's relaxing a little bit." The final is unlikely to be that relaxing, as the ninth seeds come up against the top-ranked Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs, who are looking for their fourth title this year, their 19th in all, and their second Grand Slam crown.

Raymond and Stubbs yesterday ended the Wimbledon career of Nathalie Tauziat when they defeated the 33-year-old Frenchwoman and her American partner Kimberly Po-Messerli 6-3, 7-5. The American-Australian combination have won at least two titles a year for the past six seasons in an increasingly successful partnership. Yet they have never dominated women's doubles the way Gigi Fernandez and Nathasha Zvereva did in the 1990s and Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver in the mid-80s, and having just one Grand Slam title in women's doubles (they share three in the mixed) adds to the sense of underachievement that often accompanies both their careers.

Raymond is a highly intelligent 26-year-old from Pennsylvania with a fascination for criminology which often exceeds her ability to make the most of winning positions. Stubbs provides the guts of the team, a feisty Sydneysider whose profile was at its highest a few years ago when she was a regular dinner partner of Steffi Graf and was frequently seen on the German's bench in the competitors' enclosure.

The women's doubles final is these days played on the final Sunday, as by tradition is the mixed which will this year feature some names little known in British circles. In today's semi-finals, the American twins Bob and Mike Bryan, who reached the semi-finals of the men's doubles, face each other with Bob partnering Lisa McShea and Mike teaming up with Liezel Huber. The winners will play Leos Friedl and Daniela Hantuchova or David Rikl and Karina Habsudova, two Czech-Slovak pairings who meet in the other semi-final.

The only element of British interest comes through Hantuchova, the promising Slovak teenager who is now working with British coach Nigel Sears.

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