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Tennis: Clijsters quick to sympathise after whitewashing of Safin

Any list of the most good-natured women in tennis needs to have Kim Clijsters and Ana Ivanovic in there.

While it can sometimes feel as though Ivanovic's sunny disposition prevents her from being as nasty during matches as perhaps she ought to be -- and the Serb lost in the opening round of the Australian Open to Russian Ekaterina Makarova -- Clijsters manages to have separate on-court and off-court personalities.

Clijsters's encounter with Russia's Dinara Safina on the Rod Laver Arena was supposed to be the most compelling of the 64 first-round matches in the women's tournament, a meeting of two former world No 1s. This could have been the evening when Safina, now unseeded, started to pull herself out of her career tailspin, yet she was annihilated 6-0 6-0.

Although Clijsters was not about to give Safina any "sympathy games", as soon as the last point had been completed, Clijsters immediately reverted to her usual thoughtful and considerate self. She did not celebrate this as hard as she might have done.

"I do feel bad," Clijsters said. "I even caught myself at 5-0 in the second set. She hit a couple of backhands down the line, I was like 'Yeah, that's it!'

"She just doesn't have that same power. She used to have one of the best and most unpredictable backhands down the line. She doesn't use it as much any more. That game is still in her. She just has to win a few tough matches, then build some confidence."

With Serena Williams missing after her foot came off worse from an argument with a broken beer bottle in Munich last summer, this is a very open tournament, but Clijsters is probably favourite.

Perhaps this will be the fortnight when the Belgian wins her first slam outside New York and adds to her three US Open titles.

The chances of Ivanovic, another former world No 1, ever winning a second slam are disappearing fast. She lost 3-6, 6-4, 10-8 to Makarova. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent