Clijsters vaults into top 20 with close victory

The unseeded Belgian Kim Clijsters went one better than her boyfriend, Lleyton Hewitt, yesterday when she recorded the biggest win of her career, beating Elena Likhovtseva in the final of the WTA Sparkassen Cup here.

The unseeded Belgian Kim Clijsters went one better than her boyfriend, Lleyton Hewitt, yesterday when she recorded the biggest win of her career, beating Elena Likhovtseva in the final of the WTA Sparkassen Cup here.

Hewitt lost a thrilling five-setter in the Stuttgart Masters Tournament, but Clijsters, 17, took two hours and 15 minutes to wear down Likhovtseva, winning 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 and moving up 11 places in the world rankings to 20th. Less than two years ago the Belgian teenager was No 420. She is the youngest of the world's top 100 players.

Clijsters, who upset two top 10 players this week, Anna Kournikova and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, hit a smash on her second match point to defeat the seventh-seeded Russian. It was not an easy match for Clijsters, who had to fight off five set points to save the first set. In the final set, she struggled to hold her serve as her play suddenly grew erratic. "I wasn't feeling great out there. I was getting tired. I just tried to stay calm and go for my shots," she said.

Clijsters, the daughter of the former Belgian international footballer Leo Clijsters, started the match uncertainly and just managed to win her second service game after seven break points. But she soon got into her stride and Likhovtseva gave away the first set with a double-fault, losing the tie-break 8-6 having been 6-3 up.

Clijsters, who has to take time off school to compete in tournaments, was less sure in the second set and was broken in the 10th game. But the Belgian, who swept aside Kournikova 6-2, 6-3 in the semi-finals on Saturday, played some blistering shots to break Likhovtseva for a 5-4 lead in the deciding set and served out for the match.

"I have no idea how I do that," said Clijsters about her ability to produce her best on the most important points. "I just try to stay calm and make the points happen myself."

Clijsters's last WTA Tour win was at the Tasmanian International in January this year - her second title, which made her the youngest player to win two of her first nine events on the tour.

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