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Nearly woman meets golden girl

By Simon Cambers
September 09, 2005 12:21 IST
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The nearly woman of tennis will take on the golden girl at the US Open on Friday when Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova square off for a place in the final.

On one side of the net stands Belgian Clijsters, with six titles in 2005 but who has been beaten in all four of her Grand Slam finals.

On the other stands 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova, whose striking looks and model-like figure have brought her millions of dollars in endorsements.

Having missed most of last season following wrist surgery, Clijsters refused to get carried away about her chances of winning a maiden Slam despite arriving at Flushing Meadows as the title favourite.

"I know from day one that people have been saying that [I am favourite]," fourth seed Clijsters said.

"It's a compliment but I've got a tough match ahead of me and it takes a lot of work."

Clijsters's superb three-set win over Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in the previous round would have boosted her confidence for her showdown with Sharapova, whom she has beaten in each of their three meetings.

The most recent of those victories over the Russian was achieved earlier this year in the Miami final.

"The conditions were very difficult and it was tough for both of us to play our best tennis," said the popular Belgian.

"I think it's going to be a completely different match."

Top seed Sharapova will contest her first US Open semi-final safe in the knowledge that she will regain the world number one ranking from Lindsay Davenport, win or lose against Clijsters.

The 18-year-old, who became the first Russian woman to top the rankings the week before the US Open, overcame compatriot Nadia Petrova in a tense three-set battle to reach the last four.

"I just have to be mentally ready for a very tough battle," she said.

"Every single point is going to be long and it's just a matter of who wants it more and who is willing to be out there longer."

The reward for the winner will be a place in the final against last year's runner-up Elena Dementieva or twice Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce.


Pierce, the runner-up at the French Open, has advanced to the last four without dropping a set.

The 30-year-old upset third seed Amelie Mauresmo in the quarter-finals but has lost to Russian sixth seed Dementieva in their two previous encounters.

Pierce, however, believes she is playing the best tennis of her career.

"I think I'm definitely all around a better athlete and a competitor, with experience and maturity," said the 12th seed, who claimed her last major in 2000 at Roland Garros.

"Women's tennis is a lot tougher now than it was 10 years ago. So for me to be competing at the top now means I need to be stronger and faster and better than before."

Dementieva, who was beaten in two Grand Slam finals in 2004, upset second seed Davenport in the quarter-finals to reach the last four for the third time at the US Open.

Although she has produced 62 double faults in the tournament, she has won two final-set tiebreaks thanks to her never-say-die attitude.

"I have played Mary a couple of times before but right now she is a completely different player," Dementieva said.

"She has really improved a lot in the last two years. She didn't even drop a set here so it's going to be a very tough match."


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Simon Cambers
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