Kournikova's hopes of title thwarted again

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The Independent Online

Anna Kournikova vowed that she was ready to win her first title this week, but those hopes were dashed today when she was overpowered in the semifinals of the Sparkassen Cup in Leipzig, Germany, by rising 17-year-old Kim Clijsters of Belgium.

Anna Kournikova vowed that she was ready to win her first title this week, but those hopes were dashed today when she was overpowered in the semifinals of the Sparkassen Cup in Leipzig, Germany, by rising 17-year-old Kim Clijsters of Belgium.

Clijsters, the only unseeded player left, beat the world No. 10 Russian, 6-2, 6-3, pounding her forehand to win almost every long rally at the dlrs 535,000 event.

Kournikova, slamming her racket against the court in frustration, was swept in the first set in just 20 minutes and never really challenged Clijsters, who has charged up the rankings to No. 31 in less than two years on the tour.

"I just didn't get into the match today. I never found my rhythm," said the visibly disappointed Kournikova, whose parents were watching from the stands.

Kournikova's hopes of ending her title drought were boosted when she reached last week's Kremlin Cup final before losing to Martina Hingis, which moved her back into the Top 10.

But Clijsters kept her off-balance by teeing off on Kournikova's second serve and gaining a decisive break at 5-3 in the second set as yet another forehand by the Russian flew past the backline.

"I'm just tired. I've played so many tournaments this year," said Kournikova. "But I'm not surprised I lost to Kim, she played well."

Kournikova, 19 and the most photographed female athlete in the world, will try again next week in Philadelphia.

Clijsters will aim for her third title when she faces No. 7 seed Elena Likhovtseva on Sunday. The Russian reached her first final this year by racing past top-seeded Nathalie Tauziat of France, 6-2, 6-4.

Kournikova, playing her seventh semifinal this year, now has lost two straight times to Clijsters, who has already beaten numerous Top 10 players. In the quarterfinals, the Belgium player ousted world No. 9 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

"I know she was nervous and wasn't happy with her play. That just increased my confidence," said Clijsters.

Clijsters, the daughter of well-known soccer player Leo Clijsters, was the youngest player ever to win two of her first nine events on the tour when she captured Hobart in January.

Clijsters only occasionally flashed some of the power she has, instead electing to pressure Kournikova with shots that hugged the line or keep her off-balance with drop shots.

"I played tactically very well," said Clijsters. "It's good to hit to her forehand because it gets shaky sometimes."

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