Clijsters seeks reversal of form against rival

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The Belgian pair Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne will renew their rivalry today when they meet in the semi-finals of the Hastings Direct International Championships.

Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne have been occasional Fed Cup team-mates but have gone head to head when it comes to major individual prizes, and they will meet in Eastbourne after straightforward quarter-final wins.

Clijsters beat Italy's Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 6-1, while Henin-Hardenne saw off the Russian Elena Likhovtseva 6-2, 6-4 in another routine victory. It sets up a clash between compatriots who, for years, seldom spoke a good word to each other. They even disagreed recently over Wimbledon's unequal prize-money policy, which angers Clijsters while Henin-Hardenne said: "There are much bigger things in life to worry about."

However, Henin-Hardenne played down the rivalry and said: "We may never go out to dinner together after matches but we've never missed the respect between each other. It is tough between players on tour but no more so between Kim and I. And it is a much better relationship now after playing the Fed Cup for Belgium in April."

Their meeting in Eastbourne will be their 21st meeting, with honours even at 10 wins apiece.

But Clijsters, the 23-year-old Hastings Direct title-holder, has lost six of the last nine matches including four Grand Slam reverses - two of them finals - and the French Open semi-final earlier this month.

She could also be making one of her last appearances at Wimbledon after announcing her intention to quit the game "before too much longer". But there is little doubt she would like to go out with a few more titles to catch up on compatriot and reigning French Open champion Henin-Hardenne, who has landed five Grand Slams to one. Clijsters' first major crown came from last year's US Open - just months after she won Eastbourne at the first attempt.

Clijsters said: "Just because we are different personalities it doesn't mean to say I don't like Justine.

"Some people make a big thing of us coming from the same country and think there is a big rivalry between us. The media creates things that make people assume that because one of us doesn't play Fed Cup matches sometimes we don't want to play together.

"Justine has missed some Fed Cup matches but so have I when it hasn't fitted into my schedule or I've been injured but I think she deserves everything she has had out of the game.

"We've had a fun time this week here and also at Fed Cup matches in Liège [Henin-Hardenne's home town] and also Bree [Clijsters' home town] a couple of years ago. People don't see how we talk in the locker rooms because it is all behind the scenes."

Henin-Hardenne caused concern by jarring a knee during her victory over unseeded Likhovtseva, the world No 29, but she said: "It only hurt for about 30 seconds and is nothing like the knee problem I had a few weeks ago."

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