Henin overcomes illness to battle past Myskina

Beth Harris,Ap Sports Writer
Saturday 08 November 2003 01:00
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Kim Clijsters overcame Chanda Rubin's serve-and-volley game for a 6-4, 6-4 victory in round-robin play at the WTA Championships on Thursday night.

No. 2 seed Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium rallied from deficits in each set and outlasted No. 5 Anastasia Myskina of Russia 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in a 2 1/2-hour match that ended just before midnight.

Henin-Hardenne has had flu-like symptoms, including a fever, since she arrived from Belgium last weekend. A doctor checked her heart rate and blood pressure during a break in the first set. She used a spray to soothe her sore throat.

"I was having trouble breathing because of the cold I've had," she said. "I tried to relax and that helped me come back in the first set."

She trailed 5-0 before reeling off seven straight games to win the first set. There were so few spectators left by the third set, they moved down to courtside for Henin-Hardenne's gutsy comeback.

"I was a little bit afraid at the end of the third set, but I hung in there," she said. "I had to deal with a lot of pressure and I'm happy with that. It was an important victory."

Myskina led 5-3 in the second set before Henin-Hardenne caught her only to lose the set on a missed backhand volley. Myskina blew a 5-4 lead in the third, then got broken as Henin-Hardenne won the final two games and the match despite 48 unforced errors.

Henin-Hardenne and Jennifer Capriati of the United States are 1-0 in the Black group. Myskina and Ai Sugiyama of Japan are 0-1.

Clijsters, the world's top-ranked player, assured herself of a spot in the semifinals of the tournament she won last year. She is 2-0 in the Red group and hasn't dropped a set in either match.

"It's nice to know that," she said. "I've played two good matches, it's a relief."

Rubin, the seventh seed, and No. 4 Amelie Mauresmo of France have 1-1 records in the Red group. Mauresmo broke No. 6 Elena Dementieva of Russia twice in each set of a 6-3, 6-2 victory earlier Thursday.

Mauresmo opened with a three-set loss to Rubin, an American, on Wednesday.

Dementieva dropped to 0-2, and won't qualify for the semifinals of the $3 million tournament. The top two players in the Red and Black groups advance to the semifinals.

Belgians Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne are competing to end the year as the top-ranked player. Clijsters holds a slim 135-point lead over her countrywoman this week.

Clijsters appeared to be on her way to an easy victory when she led 5-2 in the first set. But Rubin found success by rushing the net and frustrating Clijsters for a time.

"She started to make more returns and be a lot more aggressive," said Clijsters, who has never lost to Rubin in seven career meetings. "I was playing a little too defensive. When I had to do it, I did. She made me work for it."

Clijsters backed Rubin off the net more in the second set, which took only 33 minutes. Rubin played 30 points at the net in the first half and just 13 in the second.

Mauresmo needed just over an hour to beat Dementieva, who had only nine winners. The Russian has won just nine games in her two matches, having lost 6-2, 6-2 to Clijsters on Wednesday.

"I was taking it in a looser way, I was feeling no pressure," Mauresmo said. "I felt better with my serve."

Mauresmo has had a solid yet unspectacular year. She failed to reach the quarterfinals just three times in 16 tournaments, and is coming off a title at Philadelphia last week.

At some point, however, Mauresmo will have to contend with Clijsters, who has a 5-2 career record against the Frenchwoman.

"She's consistent and she's played a great season," Mauresmo said. "I have nothing to lose."

Serena and Venus Williams, along with Lindsay Davenport, are absent from the season-ending tournament because of injuries.

The announced crowd of 5,431 was just 150 more than on opening night and appeared to be a couple thousand less in cavernous Staples Center, where poor attendance was a major problem last year.

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