Henin-Hardenne 'in good shape' for final

Updated: January 29, 2004, 10:49 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Kim Clijsters hopes the third time is the charm.

Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne won their semifinal matches in straight sets Thursday at the Australian Open to set up an all-Belgian rematch of the French and U.S. Open finals, both won by Henin-Hardenne.

Clijsters, seeking her first Grand Slam title, also would regain the top spot with a victory.

Taking the court only 25 hours after a quarterfinal match in which she reinjured her sprained left ankle, second-seeded Clijsters chased down drop shots and ran sideline to sideline to beat No. 22 Patty Schnyder 6-2, 7-6 (2).

"I knew it was going to be a little sore," said Clijsters, who underwent a fitness test before the match and had the ankle smeared with anti-inflammatory cream and tightly taped. "But doctors have reassured me that I'm not going to make it any worse by playing."

Henin-Hardenne advanced by beating 32nd-seeded Fabiola Zuluaga, the beneficiary of Amelie Mauresmo's withdrawal before their quarterfinal match with a back injury.

Clijsters hurt her ankle at the Hopman Cup and was sidelined for two weeks before the Australian Open. She aggravated the injury in a quarterfinal victory over sixth-seeded Anastasia Myskina on Wednesday.

Like Henin-Hardenne, Clijsters scored her sixth consecutive straight-sets victory, which has helped keep the stress on her ankle to a minimum.

"I'm feeling good," she said. "Whatever the time you can rest, the better, particularly with my foot. I'm just really looking forward to go out there. I wish it was tomorrow in a way."

Both Belgians reached the semifinals at all four majors last season. Neither has made the Australian Open final before.

Clijsters said she hoped to make the "third time lucky" against Henin-Hardenne, her good friend. She said she's not thinking about her losses in her two previous big matches against Henin-Hardenne, blaming them in part on playing doubles at the French and U.S. Opens. She's stuck to just singles this time.

"In those matches, I knew where the problem was laying and I knew that it wasn't psychological," Clijsters said. "I was a little bit exhausted at the end of those two Slams. This year, I think I've become a little bit smarter."

Both semifinals were played under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena as light rain fell sporadically throughout the day.

Henin-Hardenne made 25 unforced errors, including 15 in the second set against Zuluaga, the first Colombian woman to reach a grand Slam semifinal.

"It was a good fight, long rallies. I played well on the important points and served well when I had to," she said.

Henin-Hardenne said coming into a major ranked No. 1 was tough to handle in the first week.

"It's been a difficult tournament for me. It was new being the top seed," she said. "But the situation changed in the quarterfinals and I feel better and better. Now I have to improve my level again if I want to win the title."

Schnyder was playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal.

"It's still my biggest success ever. I'm obviously disappointed to lose but for me this is still a super, super achievement," said Schnyder, who reached the quarterfinals at the French and U.S. Opens in 1998.

"It was a very close second set and you never know what could have happened in the third. But Kim played an unbelievably good match."

Henin-Hardenne said Belgian fans will enjoy seeing both women in the final.

"Both Kim and I are getting familiar and used to this situation," she said. "Kim has a lot of fans. I have, too. And one more time, it's just amazing. ... It's just something crazy for a little country."

Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne have been friends since junior tournaments. They have played 17 times, with Clijsters holding a 9-8 advantage, including a victory in their last match. It's 2-2 in Grand Slams, with both of Henin-Hardenne's wins coming in finals.

As Clijsters tries to regain the No. 1 ranking, she'll have something of a hometown advantage. She is engaged to Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, a former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion.

"I've come to so many Davis Cup matches here, and now to be on court and have the support of the crowd, it's very special," Clijsters said. "I've made the final at the French and U.S. Open, but coming here means a lot more to me."

Schnyder insisted that she and Zuluaga deserved to reach the final four, despite the absence of several top players who are injured.

Last year's champion Serena Williams and former champion Jennifer Capriati did not make the trip, while Venus Williams was beaten in the third round by Lisa Raymond in her comeback after sixth months out.

"Of course, it would be nice for you to see one of the Williams back, probably in a final," said Schnyder.

"But we give our best, the other players ... and we deserve to be there."

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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