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PACIFIC LIFE OPEN

It's a Sweetheart Deal

Clijsters beats Davenport to win women's title, part of big day for tennis' highest-ranked couple, with Hewitt taking men's final.

March 17, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Now they have his-and-her whale trophies.

Whether or not those gaudy-looking pieces of championship hardware end up heading to her house in Belgium or his home in Adelaide, Australia, it was close to an ideal Sunday for Kim Clijsters and her longtime boyfriend Lleyton Hewitt.

At the Pacific Life Open, she won, then he won, combining to take home $732,000. He remained No. 1. And, probably to her delight, Clijsters was asked only once what it takes to beat the Williams sisters.

Unlike November -- when several thousand miles and a week separated their titles in Los Angeles and Shanghai -- Clijsters and Hewitt won on the same court, separated by about an hour and a half. The top-seeded Clijsters defeated No. 4 Lindsay Davenport, 6-4, 7-5, in 1 hour 26 minutes, and Hewitt followed with a 6-1, 6-1 drubbing of Gustavo Kuerten.

As for the stress level before the twin finals, it was close to nil, according to Clijsters.

"He was still sleeping when I had to leave," she said. "I don't think he was worried about mine too much. He's been in these type of situations, in big finals, more than I have.

"But I don't think there's too much stress involved; not on my side. I was happy I got to play first because otherwise I would have been watching more of his match. Then it would have been harder for me to focus for my own match."

The early start was unusual. She was like a commuter, getting up at 6:30 in the morning to go to work. Instead of coffee and a briefcase, Clijsters departed with her rackets and coach to get ready for a possible 9:30 final.

Before Saturday's inclement weather, the women had been set to play the final at noon. Since the second men's semifinal still had to be completed, the schedule was changed and the women's final was placed before the men's final, and just after the completion of the semifinal between Kuerten and Rainer Schuettler.

Depending on when that match ended, Clijsters and Davenport could have had to start as early as 9:30. Instead, they started just after 10:30. Davenport said a 9:30 start in such an important tournament -- a decision driven by television -- was "a little ridiculous," whether it was for the men or women.

"I don't think I've ever warmed up for a final at like, 7:20, especially from finishing so late the other night," Davenport said.

"There's no question she is the reason why I didn't play great. She hits the ball with different spins, some hard, some soft, very consistent, gets a lot of balls back. But it is disappointing because, win or lose, you'd like to play a little bit of a more high-quality match for the fans or even just for yourself in general."

Davenport's serve contributed to her downfall. She double faulted 10 times and recorded only one ace. Three of her double faults came when she was down game point, including one in the second set that allowed Clijsters to pull to 3-3.

"I just felt like it wasn't as effective as it could have been," said Davenport, who missed this tournament last year because she was recovering from knee surgery. "Even if it went in, it wasn't really winning me any free points. That's something I've struggled with more this year than in past years."

Negativity crept in for Davenport as Clijsters mixed tenacious defense with powerful groundstrokes. She often kept rallies alive with her speed and athleticism, forcing Davenport to hit, and often miss, one extra shot.

That's what happened on match point with Davenport serving at 5-6. It was Clijsters' second match point and she tracked down a volley and put up a lob, forcing Davenport to hit wide.

"Against Lindsay, it's important to show that you're fighting and you're trying to get to every ball, showing you're hungry to play," Clijsters said. "I think I did that really well. I could tell her body language wasn't great, wasn't as good as when she played Jennifer [Capriati]. So I knew I had to keep pushing and try to make her make those unforced errors."

It is Clijsters' second title of 2003, and although Davenport leads their series, 6-5, the 19-year-old Belgian has won four of the last five meetings, including the final at Sydney in January.

But although she has emerged as the foremost challenger to the Williams sisters, Clijsters has difficulty with questions about trying to become No. 1 -- she said that's not a goal -- and trying to beat Serena and Venus Williams, who are Nos. 1 and 2 in the world.

"Everything has to be good to beat them," she said. "You have to serve well. You have to move well, return well, you have to grab every chance you get. Even when they're playing really well, they'll have a moment in their match where they're maybe not as focused or not playing as precise. Those are the chances you have to grab."

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