Clijsters wins Leipzig in two-hour battle

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The Independent Online

Belgium's Kim Clijsters struggled for more than two hours today, but the upcoming 17-year-old outlasted Russia's Elena Likhovtseva to claim the third title of her short career at the Sparkassen Cup in Leipzig, Germany.

Belgium's Kim Clijsters struggled for more than two hours today, but the upcoming 17-year-old outlasted Russia's Elena Likhovtseva to claim the third title of her short career at the Sparkassen Cup in Leipzig, Germany.

Clijsters, after upsetting two Top 10 players, smashed an overhand to end the match against the seventh-seeded Likhovtseva, 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 6-4 as the crowd cheered wildly for the teen-ager.

Clijsters, the daughter of well-known soccer player Leo Clijsters, will climb to 20th in the rankings, skyrocketing from No. 420 less than two years ago. She is the youngest of the world's Top 100 ranked players.

But it wasn't easy for Clijsters, who fought off five set points to save the first set at the $535,000 event. In the final set, she struggled to hold her serve as her play suddenly grew erratic.

"I wasn't feeling great today. My legs felt all the long matches this week, but I just kept fighting," said Clijsters, who also reached the doubles final.

Clijsters, who has already beaten numerous Top 10 players, added Anna Kournikova and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario to the list in reaching the final.

Likhovtseva, ranked 25th, had reached the final by upsetting top seed Nathalie Tauziat of France in two quick sets.

Clijsters, who has power as well as good athletic ability, came through with her best tennis in the crunch as she did all week.

At 4-4 she broke Likhovtseva's serve, then fought off two break chances in the next game before closing out the match.

She also trailed 3-6 in the first set tiebreaker, then ripped off one of her powerful crosscourt forehands and charged the net for a rare volley point as she fought off three set points.

"I have no idea how I do that. I just try to stay calm and make the points happen myself," said Clijsters.

She will earn $87,000 for the biggest win of her short career. Her second title at Hobart in January made her the youngest player ever to win two of her first nine events on the tour.

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