Clijsters is ready for grand hurdle

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:52 PM ET

THE LAST point of the match said it all.

Justine Henin-Hardenne's return of Kim Clijsters' serve caught the edge of her racquet and sailed high and wide, the last of her 34 unforced errors bouncing uselessly into the grandstand.

It was as if Henin-Hardenne, like the traffic cop at a three-car pileup, was saying: "Move along folks, there's nothing more to see here."

And with that, Clijsters hoisted the Rogers Cup, having sliced and diced her weary Belgian compatriot with shocking ease, in straight sets, 7-5, 6-1.

The uninspiring final ended a week at the Rexall Centre that seemed governed by Murphy's Law: If it could go wrong, it did go wrong.

In a gate-driven sport, it is death to have the likes of Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Mary Pierce pull the plug because of injuries before the tournament begins.

Then, Serena Williams called it quits after one match. Neither does it help to have a monsoon and a tornado warning on one of the key playoff evenings, which was the case Friday.

Still, they sold 136,000 tickets.

"Our goal going into the tournament was to achieve 155,000-160,000 in ticket sales," Tennis Canada tournament director Stacey Allaster said.

"When we lost players like Maria and Serena, who drive walkup as it relates to casual fans, those were the people who didn't join us."

While all around her the stars were dropping like flies, Clijsters more or less breezed to this championship. Her four matches leading up to the final averaged 51 minutes in duration and included a walkover when Ana Ivanovic couldn't continue. Clijsters had more than 24 hours between her semi-final win and the championship, while Henin-Hardenne, after finishing her quarter-final win near midnight on Friday, had to play a three-set Saturday night semi-final.

"I wasn't fresh enough (yesterday) to compete with her," said Henin-Hardenne.

"But I'll have another chance. My goal remains the U.S. Open and I have a week to recover from these last three nights."

It all added up to a 71-minute mismatch that will send Clijsters to the U.S. Open as a woman to be feared.

Clijsters opened up a 4-1 lead in the first set but Henin-Hardenne broke back, squaring the set at 4-4 and then 5-5, giving the false impression this was going to be a long, hard-fought affair. Clijsters held serve to go up 6-5, then broke Henin-Hardenne's service to win the first set.

"I didn't really let it get to me," Clijsters said when asked about losing her early advantage. "It was really important that I stayed focused and stayed patient."

At 1-1 in the second set, Clijsters simply took over and used just 26 minutes to bury her opponent in the last five games.

"I'm playing well and I don't think I could have done much better," said Clijsters, whose hardcourt record is 31-1 this year.

"What's really important for me is to have a few days off without touching a racquet. I'll do all my exercises, but no tennis."

TOUCHED A NERVE

Clijsters is one of the best players in women's tennis yet to win a Grand Slam. It's a subject that, when broached, seems to touch a nerve.

"There's no monkey on my back," she said. "I have to focus and I have to work hard and there are 127 players there (at the U.S. Open) who will be trying to do the same thing.

"It's hard to answer questions about how much it would mean to me to win it, because I don't know. I've never been in that situation. A lot of people focus on the things I don't have. I haven't won a Grand Slam, but I've won a lot of other things."

Including the Rogers Cup.


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