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Sweeping News Saved for Off La Costa's Court

Williams' knee surgery overshadows a day when Clijsters, Davenport, Henin-Hardenne and Kuznetsova advance in cakewalks.

August 02, 2003|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

CARLSBAD — Little did anybody at the Acura Classic Friday know that the real story in women's tennis was happening about 100 miles up the road.

On a day of quarterfinals devoid of drama and as predictable as fans whistling at line calls, Serena Williams stole the show. And she wasn't even here.

The news of her surprise knee surgery in Los Angeles, and corresponding withdrawal from the U.S. Open, came out during the evening session and the last of the four quarterfinals. In that match, Kim Clijsters, fast closing on the No. 1 ranking and now a virtual shoo-in to take that away from Serena, cruised past Lisa Raymond, 6-2, 6-2.

As Clijsters was being brought to her post-match interview, a Women's Tennis Assn. official gave her the news about Williams. Clijsters' response about that at her news conference was a study in political correctness.

"For any sports player, it is really sad to be injured, and have to go through surgery," she said. "This will give her a chance now to really show what a great champion she, in how she bounces back."

What Clijsters refused to address was that Serena's withdrawal makes Clijsters' chances much better at winning her first Grand Slam event.

"I wouldn't think about that helping me," she said, in response to a question. "I just think it would be a great thing for all the best players to be there."

Most of the great players were here, and three of the top five made their way into today's semifinals. Besides No. 2-ranked Clijsters, No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne, also from Belgium, and No. 5 Lindsay Davenport, won easily.

Henin-Hardenne, this year's French Open champion, took out Russian Nadia Petrova, 6-0, 6-2. Davenport fell behind Chanda Rubin, 3-1, and then roared back to win, 6-3, 6-3.

The fourth semifinalist is Svetlana Kuznetsova, an 18-year-old, who has gained attention recently as Martina Navratilova's doubles partner. She hasn't fared badly in singles, either, bringing her ranking to No. 29 and taking advantage of an opening in the bracket here left when Jennifer Capriati had to default with a shoulder injury in the second round. Kuznetsova beat fellow Russian Elena Likhovtseva, 6-2, 6-3. Today's matchups have Davenport playing Clijsters in the marquee match at 1 p.m. and Henin-Hardenne facing Kuznetsova at 7:30 p.m.

Clijsters did her part to save a day of cookie-cutter tennis from becoming somewhat of a fan rip-off. At $50 a head for box seats, four straight-set routs with 50 minutes or so in each of banging from the baseline hardly seemed money well spent. On this day, a nicely hit overhead became a real spine-tingler. One fan leaving after the Kuznetsova-Likhotsova grind seemed to rationalize by telling his companion, "Well, there sure were lots of deuces in that match."

Clijsters' match had at least a touch of flair and variety. She took on anything the game and veteran Raymond sent her way. And that included drop shots, rushes to the net and even slow-ball, change-up serves. Raymond's play is one that does not fit the cookie-cutter style on the tour, but everything she tried against Clijsters was answered with the Belgian's great speed, court sense and willingness to play all-out on every point.

Davenport said that her recent lack of success against Clijsters -- she has lost four of their last five matches after winning six of their first seven -- is easily explainable.

"She has just gotten better," she said.

Clijsters said she had great respect for Davenport because "she is so tall and still serves so good."

Henin-Hardenne has played Kuznetsova once, this year at Wimbledon, and won, 6-2, 6-2.

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