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No. 1 Is Piece of Cake for Clijsters

Belgian beats Davenport to win title in Carson and becomes 12th player to achieve top ranking.

August 11, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Standards being standards, the No. 1 club doesn't swing its doors open often to new membership. But a Belgian prodigy with an uncompromising forehand and distinguished athletic pedigree gained entrance as the well-known group of 11 expanded to an even dozen.

You might say Kim Clijsters had her cake and ate it too.

The top-seeded Clijsters won her sixth title of 2003, beating No. 2-seeded Lindsay Davenport, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, in Sunday's final of the JPMorgan Chase Open in Carson, becoming the 12th woman to reach No. 1 on the WTA Tour. Of the 12, she is the only one who has not won a Grand Slam event, but could change that with a victory at the upcoming U.S. Open.

She beamed after Davenport's backhand went wide on match point and never seemed to quit smiling during the postmatch activities. On the court, officials gave her a cake and a 3-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a 1.

"It's a feeling I cannot really describe," said Clijsters, who will replace the injured Serena Williams when the official rankings are released today by the tour.

"Even out there on the court when it happened, I was really happy and I had all these butterflies in my stomach and goose bumps. It's an incredible feeling."

Not long after serving for the match, the title and No. 1 ranking against Davenport, Clijsters served cake to the media members in attendance, and knowing her audience, managed to cut slices big enough to feed a family of four. One writer asked for a smaller piece.

"Eat what you get given," Clijsters said, joking.

After all, it was hers to give. Clijsters controlled the distribution of the cake in the same way she was in command of the 1-hour 30-minute final and pursuit of the No. 1 ranking before 3,651 at the Home Depot Center in 95-degree heat. She won the first five games in 24 minutes.

Though Davenport picked up her game considerably in the second set, Clijsters still had a chance to win it in straight sets. But, in perhaps the best game of the match, Davenport fought off three break points in the seventh game of the second set.

After splitting sets, they took a 10-minute break because of the extreme-heat rule, and Clijsters said she stuck her head under cold water and changed clothes. She returned to the court looking like a different player, winning the first three games and, in one stretch, 10 consecutive points.

Davenport's body language was getting more negative, and then her body broke down when she trailed, 1-3, in the third. Her chronic foot ailment, an injured nerve in her toe, flared up at deuce, and she won only one of the final 11 points, almost unable to move. The third set lasted only 17 minutes.

"It came on really sharp, but like I said, I already dug myself a big enough hole to try and get out of," Davenport said. "It would have been a different story if it had been pretty close."

Williams, who had spent 57 weeks at No. 1, is already out of the U.S. Open. Her older sister, Venus, is questionable for the final Grand Slam event of the year because of an abdominal strain, and now Davenport has doubt looming over her appearance.

The cast of injured Americans increases the chances of an all-Belgian final at the Open between new No. 1 Clijsters and her rival, French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne.

"It's a super day for Belgium," said Clijsters' coach, Marc Dehous. "We had our first Grand Slam winner and now we have the first No. 1."

Clijsters was traveling light in Southern California. Her boyfriend, former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, was in Cincinnati on a golf course, keeping track of the match via text messages from Clijsters' parents, Leo and Els, who were watching the match on TV in Belgium. The Clijsters family has long been in the athletic spotlight in Belgium, as Leo was a star soccer player for the national team and mother Els an elite gymnast.

"I think everyone in Belgium has been watching it," Clijsters said.

"In my town, there was a group performing, a band, a pretty big band and no one showed up, they were watching the match. It's great to be able to give back something like this."

That wasn't just lip service. Clijsters also gave the struggling tournament, which moved to Carson this year from Manhattan Beach, a historic moment and touch of class.

After fulfilling her media obligations, she handed out slices of cake to a contingent of fans, posed for pictures and signed more autographs.

"No one will ever take that away from me, no matter what will happen to me for the rest of my career now," Clijsters said of the achievement. "It's something I'll always have on my -- how do you say? -- on my resume."

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