Clijsters lacks confidence to stop Serena

John Roberts,Florida
Friday 28 March 2003 01:00

Although Kim Clijsters put a brave face on her failure to convert a 5-1 lead into victory against Serena Williams in the Australian Open semi-finals in January, the Belgian was tentative again yesterday, enabling the world No 1 to advance to the final of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

It was clear to most observers that Williams was less than comfortable when serving, but Clijsters, the world No 3, lacked confidence in her own game and the defending champion was able to gather her composure before the end of the opening set, going on to win, 6-4, 6-2, after 80 minutes.

The manner of the defeat was disappointing for Clijsters and also to those who have come to regard her as they only player capable of splitting Serena and her older sister, Venus, at the top of the women's game.

Watched by her boyfriend, Lleyton Hewitt, the men's world No 1, who had been eliminated in his opening singles match, Clijsters was unable to compete with her customary gusto, making too many errors while trying to settle into the match.

Though broken in the opening game, Clijsters retaliated immediately. She then held for 2-1 and had two break points for 3-1 before losing her serve again in the fifth game. Clijsters broke back to 4-4, only to double-fault and miss a forehand in losing the ninth game. Williams served out the set to love.

After that, Clijsters all but capitulated, losing the first four games of the second set, in spite of creating a break point at 0-3. The Belgian held for 1-4 and managed to save four match points when serving at 5-1 down. Williams served out the match to love, converting her fifth match point with an ace.

"At the end of the first set, after a few rallies, I felt physically and mentally empty," Clijsters said. Not that Williams sounded like a winner: "My serve wasn't there at all," she said, "and my returns were miserable."

The popular Paradorn Srichaphan, of Thailand, was the first player to be honoured on the Stadium Court this week when he was presented with two Waterford Crystal trophies. Srichaphan was voted by his peers Most Improved Player in 2002, after climbing the ATP rankings from No 126 to No 16, and he also received the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for his refreshingly good-natured approach to the sport.

So even as he advanced to play Carlos Moya, the Spanish former world No 1, in the men's singles semi-finals, the 23-year-old from Bangkok had two fragile reminders of his success last season to pack carefully for the journey home. Moya was the only other player to defeat six top 10 opponents last year. Srichaphan's list included Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi (at Wimbledon), Marat Safin and Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Tennis enthusiasts may have worried that the subsequent weight of expectation would erode his game and subdue his personality. Happily, there are no signs of that happening. Fortitude and good fortune have enabled him to prosper in the Nasdaq: having overcome Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the third round, he had a walkover to the quarter-finals after Marcelo Rios withdrew with a back injury.

There was little prospect that Todd Martin would give Srichaphan an easy time on Wednesday night, and the 32-year-old American seemed likely to advance to the last four after breaking serve to lead in the final set. Srichaphan, whose serve lacked the consistency of his groundstrokes, recovered and won, 6-3, 6-7, 7-5. "Everything just turned around, and I played well in the last couple of games," he said.

* The Liverpool International Wimbledon warm-up tournament has been cancelled after the ATP refused let it clash with another event in Nottingham. The ATP refused to waive a rule which prevents top 50 players competing in a tournament within 100 miles of an ATP event. Liverpool's Calderstones Park is 106 miles by road from the Nottingham Tennis Centre.

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