Some revenge for Clijsters

Belgium's Kim Clijsters (left), who won the clash between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked players, poses with her opponent, compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne, after the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Filderstadt. "I had so much fun out there. Playing matches like this is what playing tennis is all about. It was so close," said Clijsters after her victory. — Pic. AP-Belgium's Kim Clijsters (left), who won the clash between the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked players, poses with her opponent, compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne, after the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Filderstadt. "I had so much fun out there. Playing matches like this is what playing tennis is all about. It was so close," said Clijsters after her victory. — Pic. AP

MAYBE Kim Clijsters should forget practicing, take the week off before a Grand Slam event and just play with her dog.

MAYBE Kim Clijsters should forget practicing, take the week off before a Grand Slam event and just play with her dog.

The Belgian player has lost three Grand Slam finals, but finally won a big match, outlasting Justine Henin-Hardenne 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in a rare battle between the No. 1 and No. 2 with the top ranking on the line.

The top-ranked Clijsters didn't touch a racket all week before the Porsche Grand Prix started since she was nursing an ankle sprain.

"Maybe I should get injured more often. All I did during the week was swim and play with my dog," the Belgian said.

Surprising herself, Clijsters was fresher at the end of the battle with her fellow Belgian, known for her fanatical workout. After a match full of close games, sparkling shots and constant pressure points, Henin-Hardenne wilted.

After losing the decisive break to fall behind 4-2 in the third set, with Clijsters needing three tries to crack her and win the game, she appeared to give up.

"Every game was so close in the third set and I could feel the match slipping away from me. I just got tired," Henin-Hardenne said.

Clijsters gained some revenge for losing the French and U.S. Open finals to Henin-Hardenne in routs. It was the first time she ever really beat her rival in a final, having lost five before. The only exception was Rosmalen a few months ago, but Henin-Hardenne quit with a wrist sprain while ahead.

Still the 20-year-old, known as one of the nicest players on the tour, didn't mention any of this — just how much fun she enjoyed herself out on the court.

"I had so much fun out there. Playing matches like this is what playing tennis is all about. It was so close," Clijsters said. "It's a bonus to be No. 1 for another week, but that's not the important thing to me."

It was just the eighth time since the computer rankings were instituted in 1975 that the No. 1 and No. 2 met in a head-to-head duel for the top ranking. The last time came when the Williams sisters faced each other in the 2002 U.S. Open final won by Serena. There have been only four of these showdowns in the last 16 years.

But it was clear from the event's start that the two Belgians were headed to the confrontation over No. 1. They have dominated the tour with the Williams sisters injured. Although the world's top 19 entered, except the sisters, no one could give them a real challenge as they marched into the final.

In the first set, it appeared Henin-Hardenne would win every key point again. No matter what Clijsters tried, she had the answer.

Henin-Hardenne fought off a set point as they pounded each others' backhands a half-dozen times. Then she blasted a shot to the opposite court that caught the line. Two games later, Clijsters was foiled on a break attempt despite fending off two sizzling volleys and lobbing to back her rival off the net.

But Clijsters turned it around in the second set. Leading 4-3, she needed four tries to break, but then gambled and won with a forehand return that just hit the line. After that, she proved cooler on the pressure points.

Now, Clijsters just has to prove she can win a Grand Slam. She is the only player to ascend to No. 1 without having won one.

"I don't care what they say," Clijsters said. "Even if I stay the only No. 1 never to have won a Grand Slam title, then I'll be in the record books, won't I? That's good too."

Clijsters spent the week saying it was just a thrill to be able to play for No. 1, while Henin-Hardenne made it clear she'd spent much of her life working just for that honour.

Her next chance may come at the year-ending WTA Championships in early November. Clijsters has a lot of points to defend since she won last year. Henin-Hardenne, however, could make a big jump since she was knocked out in the second round last time.

"I'm disappointed because I didn't win the tournament, not because I'm not No. 1," Henin-Hardenne said. "If it happens this week, next week, or at the end of the year, I don't care."

One thing is clear: If the Williams sisters don't return from injury, there appears to be no one around to challenge the two Belgians. They have won 14 tournaments and reached 22 finals this year.

Clijsters has the choice between a Porsche and $100,000 for winning her 17th career title.