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Kim Clijsters takes match in tennis Classic

Downs opponent Jelena Jankovic after hard-fought match; moves to quarterfinals.

Background story on Kim Clijsters, published July 7, Palo Alto Weekly:

Sports - Friday, July 7, 2006

A thirst for more titles

Clijsters looking for her fourth Bank of West title in July

by Rick Eymer

Kim Clijsters not only made her first coach's prediction come true, she succeeded beyond all of his wildest dreams. After 31 WTA Tour titles, including her first Grand Slam victory last September at the U.S. Open, she has not only reached the pinnacle of her sport but has maintained that level of excellence.

Clijsters, who lost to fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), in Thursday's semifinals of Wimbledon, returns to the $600,000 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford's Taube Tennis Center beginning July 24 to defend her title. She also won the U.S. Open Series championship last year, a series of summer tournaments on hardcourt that began with the Bank of the West.

A half a lifetime ago (which in Clijsters' years is 1994) she won the Belgian Junior Championship at the tender age of 11.

Bart Van Kertckhove, then her coach, was so confident that this pre-teen would become one of the top players in the world he bet a six-pack of beer -- presumably Belgian -- that Clijsters would eventually become a top 10 player. Clijsters made Van Bertckhove a prophet in 2001, the year she won the first of three Bank of the West titles.

But she didn't stop there.

On Aug. 11, 2003, Clijsters moved to the top of the rankings after beating Lindsay Davenport, also entered in the Bank of the West, in the championship match of the Home Depot Center tournament in Los Angeles.

The next week she became the fifth player ever to hold the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles.

Clijsters and the sixth-ranked Davenport have had several memorable matches at the Bank of the West Classic. Together they own six Bank of the West titles, including four of the last five. They are also two of the most popular players around Stanford, where the tournament will be held for the 10th straight season.

"I really don't care who's standing in front of me," Clijsters said. "It doesn't matter if I'm playing Venus (Williams) or Justine or Lindsay. I think that's something that as you get older and as you play bigger tournaments and more matches, you know that everything has to be you playing well. I'm not going to worry about who's playing on the other side of the net."

Good things seem to happen to Clijsters in the years she wins the Bank of the West. Last year she won her first Grand Slam title and doubled her earnings at the U.S. Open as a result of her U.S. Open Series championship. She had missed most of the previous season with injuries and was ranked as low as 134th in March of 2005 before making her remarkable comeback, which was topped off by regaining the No. 1 spot this past January. She won a tour-best 67 matches.

"Every match, it doesn't matter if you play someone who is a really good player or you play a girl you don't really know that well; you always have to be focused," Clijsters said. "You don't want any surprises to happen out there. That's why you just try to focus mainly on your own game. You have a good opponent standing in front of you, but you just try to work on things yourself, try to focus on yourself."

Clijsters enjoyed a banner year in 2003, when she reached the semifinals in 20 of the 21 events she entered and advanced to 15 finals, the most in women's tennis since Monica Seles' glorious 1991 campaign. After finishing with a 90-12 record in singles, she became the first to win 90 matches in singles play since Martina Navratilova in 1982 and the first since Chris Evert in 1974 to play over 100 singles matches in a year.

Navratilova and Evert are, of course, former Bank of the West champions.

In 2001 Clijsters finished in the top 10 for the first time, helping to quench Van Bertckhove's thirst.

"There's always room for improvement. It doesn't matter how good you're playing," she said. "If I play the final of a Grand Slam or a first round in a Tier III tournament, I prepare myself the same. I always do the same everything. I think it's really important to have the same routine before you play."

There are more great things ahead for the 23-year-old Clijsters, who recently announced her engagement to Brian Lynch, an American who plays professional basketball in Belgium. She's currently ranked second in the world, and is coming off an impressive performance at Wimbledon.

"Every match is fun," Clijsters said. "As long as you win them, they're always fun. It doesn't matter if you win them easy or tough. Sometimes the tougher ones, if you win the tough ones, they're fun to win, too, because you really have to battle."

In addition to Clijsters and Davenport, eight other players in the top 25 have committed to play at the Taube Tennis Center, including No. 10 Patty Schnyder, No. 13 Nicole Vaidisova, No. 16 Anna-Lena Groenfeld, No. 18 Daniela Hantuchova, No. 21 Ai Sugiyama, No. 23 Nathalie Dechy, 24, Shahar Pe'er, and No. 25 Katarina Srebotnik.

Chandra Rubin, who has been ranked as high as sixth in her career, and Elena Bovina, ranked as high as 14th, are also entered. This will be the first tournament of the year for both. Rubin is returning from ankle and knee injuries while Bovina has been out with a shoulder injury.

Others entered include No. 28 Marion Bartoli, No. 29 Jelena Jankovic, No. 31 Gisela Dulko, No. 38 Sania Mirza (India's most successful female player), No. 41 Kveta Peschke, No. 43 Jill Craybas, No. 47 Sybille Bammer, No. 50 Samantha Stosur and No. 56 Maria Elena Camerin.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

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