Tuesday 23 May 2017

Tennis: Clijsters last woman standing among old guard

Mark Hodgkinson in Melbourne

Kim Clijsters is now the only remaining former world No 1 of the seven who started the women's Australian Open and will play Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals tomorrow after her defeat of Russia's Ekaterina Makarova.

If Clijsters were to win this title, and Caroline Wozniacki were to lose before the semi-finals, the Belgian would become the first mother to hold the No 1 ranking.

Strange to think, perhaps, that Clijsters has had more success at the Slams since returning from a career break, during which she started a family, than she did prior to motherhood.

Before having her daughter Jada, Clijsters won one Grand Slam title, the US Open, and since then she has added a couple more with two victories in New York -- this could be the fortnight when she wins a first slam outside the United States.

Whatever happens at Melbourne Park this week, a new Australian Open champion is guaranteed, as Clijsters lost her only final here in 2004 to countrywoman Justine Henin. She is yet to drop a set during this tournament after this 7-6 6-2 victory and should she reach the last four she would play either Russia's Vera Zvonareva, who is seeded second, or Czech Petra Kvitova.

"I started the tournament off well (against Dinara Safina) but from then on it has been tough because I have been playing players I've never played before," Clijsters said. "It was the same tonight. I didn't feel my best out there but I fought."

Radwanska moved into the quarters for the second time in her career thanks to a 7-5 3-6 7-5 victory over Shuai Peng.

Zvonareva remained on course for a third successive Grand Slam final appearance with victory over Iveta Benesova, recovering after a slow start to win 6-4 6-1.

Clijsters defended brilliantly throughout the match, her speed across the court and retrieving ability forcing Makarova to try to hit closer and closer to the lines, which in turn led to a high error rate from the Russian.

The Belgian opened her match in a rush, gaining an early break to lead 2-0, but Makarova fought back to get the set back on terms. Clijsters was steadier on serve than Makarova, who faced six break points but saved them all, including two set points at 5-6 to send the set into a tiebreak, which Clijsters won.

At the start of the second set Clijsters broke Makarova and then broke again to move to 5-2. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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