Love match between Clijsters and Hewitt hits rocks

Lleyton Hewitt and Kim Clijsters yesterday called off their wedding, which was due to take place next February, leaving the tennis community wondering what had gone wrong with the sport's most fascinating romance since Andre Agassi married Steffi Graf in 2001.

Lleyton Hewitt and Kim Clijsters yesterday called off their wedding, which was due to take place next February, leaving the tennis community wondering what had gone wrong with the sport's most fascinating romance since Andre Agassi married Steffi Graf in 2001.

The announcement of the split, "for personal reasons", was made on Clijsters' website. The 21-year-old Belgian added the cryptic line: "Both of us distance ourselves from the malicious gossip which inevitably surfaces in this kind of situation."

Clijsters and Hewitt, the former Wimbledon and US Open champion, had been together since the 23-year-old Australian invited her to a party for Patrick Rafter in 2000. They became engaged during a boat trip around Sydney Harbour, and have been supportive of each other's career, often travelling to tournaments to watch each other play.

Both players have been ranked world No 1, though Clijsters has yet to win one of the four Grand Slam championships. She has lost to Justine Henin-Hardenne, her Belgian rival, in four major finals, two at the French Open, one at this year's Australian, the other at last year's US Open.

Clijsters' progress has been stalled this year by injury to her left wrist, and there had been speculation that she may have been on the point of retiring from tennis in favour of marriage and motherhood.

Her father, Leo Clijsters, was Belgium's Footballer of the Year in 1988, and her mother, Els, was a gymnast.

Hewitt's father, Glynn, a former Aussie Rules footballer, and his mother, Cherilyn, a former PE teacher, are almost fixtures at his matches around the world. The broken engagement surprised Australian tennis followers, who were looking forward to cheering for "Aussie Kim", during the centenary of the Australian Open in Melbourne next January. Hewitt, who has already qualified for the Masters Cup in Houston next month, missed this week's Madrid Masters "for personal reasons".

John Alexander, a television commentator who is a former Australian No 1, summed up the mood, saying: "It is sad, because Australian tennis fans have come to love Kim. I have never seen two people more in love and being so generous to each other. Let's just hope it's a hiccup and they get through it. But, if not, we wish them well."

Clijsters and Hewitt are the latest in a line of tennis love sagas. Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors were engaged in 1974, when they both won at Wimbledon. After they parted, Evert married John Lloyd, the British No 1.

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