Clijsters retains crown

SHE may have lost her No. 1 ranking, but no one was going to take away the Bank of America WTA Tour Championships, presented by Porsche, from the grasp of Kim Clijsters.

SHE may have lost her No. 1 ranking, but no one was going to take away the Bank of America WTA Tour Championships, presented by Porsche, from the grasp of Kim Clijsters. The 20-year-old Belgian became the fifth woman to successfully defend her season-ending crown with a convincing 6-2, 6-0 win over Am�lie Mauresmo of France in the final. Not since Steffi Graf defended her title in 1996, has the season-ending championships had a repeat champion.

Kim Clijsters with the trophy. -- Pic. AFP-

Clijsters won the first set losing only two games and blanked Mauresmo in the second. "I think from the start until the end I was very focussed. I played my best tennis here so far," Clijsters said. "I was seeing the ball as big as a football and was able to do whatever I wanted with the ball. That's a nice feeling to have." Clijsters progressed through the round robin tournament without losing a match. She was pushed to three sets by Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals. Due to the new round robin format, Clijsters and Mauresmo had met earlier in the tournament, with Clijsters struggling to defeat Mauresmo in three sets.

This was Clijsters' ninth title of the year. She was appearing in her 12th final, the most finals contested by one player since Martina Hingis in 1999. As the year-end champion, Clijsters earned $1,000,030, the extra $30 in honour of the WTA Tour's 30th anniversary. This represents the most lucrative prize in women's sports. Clijsters also became the first female tennis player to earn more than $4 million in one season.

Capriati led the semifinals against Clijsters, 6-4, 3-2 and was up a break when she took a medical time-out, needing treatment for her right hip flexor. Following Capriati's treatment, Clijsters won the next 10 games to secure the victory, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Justine Henin-Hardenne (left) retained the No. 1 ranking despite losing to Amelie Mauresmo (right) in the semifinals. — Pics. REUTERS & AFP-

Amelie Mauresmo earned her first berth in the Championships final upsetting Justine Henin-Hardenne, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-3.

Mauresmo's appearance in the semifinals was not definite until Chanda Rubin fell to Elena Dementieva in the final round of round robin play. With Rubin leading Dementieva and two points from victory, Mauresmo was packing in her hotel room, until Dementieva came back to win, giving Mauresmo the edge over Rubin in round robin play. Mauresmo capitalised on the opportunity and upset current world No. 2 Henin-Hardenne. "It is one of my biggest wins, like the way I finished it off and the way I handled the loss of the second set against a top player like Justine,'' Mauresmo said.

Despite Clijsters winning the title, it was fellow-Belgian Henin-Hardenne who finished the season with the World No. 1 ranking.

Justine Henin-Hardenne (left) retained the No. 1 ranking despite losing to Amelie Mauresmo (right) in the semifinals. — Pics. REUTERS & AFP-

Clijsters said she was disappointed not to play Henin-Hardenne in the final. Henin-Hardenne defeated Clijsters in both the French Open and the U.S. Open finals. "She deserves to be there as well,'' Clijsters said. "We've been the two strongest players from the moment Venus and Serena didn't play as much."

Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez won the doubles title, defeating Kim Clijsters and Ai Sugiyama of Japan 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. This was the first Championships title for Pascual and Suarez. The pair was making its fourth appearance in the Championships, its best result previously being reaching the semifinals in 2001.

Paoo Suarez and Virginia Ruano Pascual, the doubles winners. -- Pic. AFP-

Suarez and Pascual have won five doubles titles together this year, including the US Open. They now hold 19 career titles together and will finish the year ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively.

The women's pro tennis tour is thinking of shortening its 11-month schedule by a week in 2006 and by two weeks in 2007 in response to years of player-complaints about the season being too long. "We are not far away from announcing a shortened season," tour president and CEO Larry Scott said. "For the next few years, the direction I am going to be taking at this point in time is not to be expanding the number of events, but to be looking at what we have and see how we can get more value out of it." Scott didn't specify which of the 60 events in 31 countries might be trimmed.

Scott said talks are underway for the WTA and ATP tours to combine their season-ending championships, although he said a joint event is unlikely before 2006.