Clijsters offers dash of form amid power cuts

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The Independent Online

Kim Clijsters relinquished her chair early on Wimbledon's No 1 court yesterday, 5-4 up against Russia's Vera Zvonareva and eager to serve out for the first set.

The grey clouds that had rolled tantalisingly over SW19 all morning were still travelling, dropping nothing more than the odd spot of rain. But Clijsters wanted to get on with things.

A cautiously clad English crowd, meanwhile, was operating on its time-honoured, fingers-crossed, don't-acknowledge-the-weather basis. And for a few moments, it seemed as if we were all going to get away with it.

As the second-seeded Belgian player reached the baseline, however, the umpire announced - with a hint of complacency - that play was suspended. The crowd emitted a traditional English sigh, and Clijsters walked dutifully back to her racquet covers.

Rain duly arrived, blotting out all competitive action for hours.

Having capitulated, eventually, to her fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne in their semi-final of the Eastbourne Tournament last Friday, Clijsters was hoping to make a bold statement on the opening day of what could be her penultimate Wimbledon, assuming that she maintains her intention of retiring at the end of next year.

She had to make do with a statement of intent that contained much of the indomitable stroke-playing she had demonstrated on the south coast, where she had striven mightily to avenge the semi-final defeat her old junior opponent had inflicted on her at the French Open.

However, she also revealed some of the weaknesses that had been on show at the Eastbourne event - in particular the unforced errors on her powerful forehand.

Despite her eventual victory at Eastbourne, Henin-Hardenne - seeded third here - had also suffered from inexplicable power cuts herself. But her scheduled opening match on Centre Court, against China's Meng Yuan, was stuck in the logjam behind the defending champion Roger Federer's first-round meeting with Roger Gasquet, of France.

Henin-Hardenne's perennial rival, first on, endured no such frustration, and after reaching 4-3 with a service break in hand, she appeared to be in a comfortable position.

At which point the Clijsters alter-ego came into play as she struggled to capitalise on her service game, being forced into five consecutive deuces and hitting a series of forehands beyond the baseline before recovering herself with a big serve that eventually took her to a 5-3 lead.

Zvonoreva, ranked 47th in the WTA ratings, indicated that she was not about to capitulate as she held her service to make it 5-4, concluding with an ace.

Clijsters took stock, then stepped up. Then stood down.