Clijsters ousts Hingis to gain top ranking


Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Kim Clijsters took over as No. 1 in women's tennis, and she got there by defeating someone who used to rule the sport.
Clijsters won her Australian Open quarterfinal match Wednesday over Martina Hingis, who was making her Grand Slam comeback after three years of retirement. The victory moved Clijsters into a semifinal against Amelie Mauresmo.
Clijsters, who will replace Lindsay Davenport atop the women's rankings, won 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 over Hingis - who won three straight Australian Open titles in 1997-99 and then was a losing finalist the next three years before leaving the sport.
"I can be proud. You just can't think you're going to go out there and win everything," Hingis said. "I lost only 6-4 in the third against the No. 1 player, so I don't think it's that bad. You think I'm going to give up right now?"
While Hingis' remarkable return to tennis ended, her Swiss compatriot - Roger Federer - stayed on course for his seventh Grand Slam title. The top-seeded Federer moved into the men's semifinals with a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) win over No. 5 Nikolay Davydenko.
Clijsters has been so troubled by injuries that the 22-year-old Belgian already has begun talking about her time after tennis. For now though, she's concentrating on added another major to her 2005 U.S. Open title.
"After the year I had last year, this is the cherry on the cake," she said about the No. 1 ranking. "It was never a goal. Keep working hard and good things happen."
Hingis quit in late 2002 because of persistent foot and heel problems, and returned to competitive tennis on Jan. 2.
Once she got comfortable with the pace against Clijsters, Hingis was able to dictate some points with her court craft and cunning - making up for a lack of power.
Despite spending 209 weeks ranked No. 1, Hingis had to get a wild card for Melbourne because her ranking slipped to No. 349. But Clijsters said that disguises the threat posed by Hingis.
Clijsters raced to a 4-0 lead in the first set, but Hingis then broke her serve, raising her eyebrows and mouthing a mock "Wow!" In the second set, she broke Clijsters' serve twice. Clijsters cut down on her errors and started hitting her groundstrokes with more precision in the third set.
Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin-Hardenne will meet in the other women's semifinal.
Hingis has played two top-10 players in 10 matches since returning to the tour and lost to both - to Clijsters and to Henin-Hardenne at the Sydney International. But she thinks she's closing the gap.
"I always used to have this mental edge over other players, but that's three years," she said. "It doesn't just erase like that."
Clijsters predicted Hingis would get back to the top.
"It's funny, because we were talking in the locker room before the match ... just chatting," Clijsters said. "I was seeing how much she would like to play this year.
"It was fun to see how motivated she is - she's very professional and puts in a lot of work. As long as you keep doing that, it pays off. She definitely has a lot of talent in the game."
Federer had some problems for the second straight match. After beating Tommy Haas in five sets, he almost fell behind 2-1 in sets to Davydenko - but the 24-year-old Russian pushed a forehand just wide in the ninth game of the third set.
Instead of getting another break point chance, Davydenko allowed Federer back into the game. And Federer made him pay.
"I'm extremely, extremely happy to come through tonight," Federer said. "I never felt like I'd lose - but he had me in trouble. I really had to fight."
Federer next plays Nicolas Kiefer, who needed 4 hours, 48 minutes - including a 96-minute final set - to defeat No. 25 Sebastien Grosjean of France 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 6-7 (1), 8-6.
On a bizarre point as Grosjean served while down 6-5 in the fifth set, Kiefer tossed his racket over the net just after Grosjean made a forehand error. Grosjean appealed unsuccessfully for a hindrance ruling. When the umpire refused to take the point away from Kiefer, the crowd erupted with loud boos.
Kiefer later apologized and acknowledged "it wasn't nice."

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