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Cruisin’ Kim sets up Henin bruiser

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Originally published on: 01/04/10 11:32

Set for a repeat of their blockbuster showdown in January’s Brisbane International final, Kim Clijsters faces Justine Henin for the 24th time in the last four of the Sony Ericsson Open on Thursday evening.

The in-form Clijsters had dropped just seven games in her three matches before her quarter-final clash with Sam Stosur, but rained down the blows to nullify the threat of the ninth-seeded Aussie and triumph 6-3 7-5.

Henin, by comparison, faced a far sterner test against world No.2 Caroline Wozniacki, dropping the first set on a tiebreak before turning to her serve – far from her trademark weapon – to bypass the Dane’s sterling defence.

“I was in a lot of trouble in the first set,” admitted Henin after battling to the 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4 victory that she is optimistic will leave her primed for battle in her seventh semi-final meeting with Clijsters.

“It was the kind of match I really needed. Even though I was a bit tired in the end, I was able to win. In terms of my fighting spirit, I proved I can still do it. That was important for me.”

In their 24 on court battles since 1998, Henin leads the head-to-head record – boasting 12 wins to Clijsters’ 11- but after squeezing to an enthralling victory at the Brisbane International in their first meeting since 2006, Clijsters might fancy her chances.

The statistics are in her favour, given that Clijsters – a year and seven days younger than 27-year-old Henin – has beaten the seven-time Grand Slam champion seven times in 11 meetings on a hard court.

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But Clijsters, who along with Austria’s Sybille Bammer is one of only two mothers in the top 100 on the WTA Tour, is certain that Thursday’s clash will be an intense encounter. Holding a considerable amount of respect for her long-term rival, she said of the 41-time career titlist: “She is definitely one of the most professional players out there. She works extremely hard to get to where she is. She’s a huge talent too. I can learn a lot from her. And especially when we get to clay, the way she moves, it’s something I can only dream of.”

It is on clay that Henin holds the upper hand, and the four-time French Open champ has triumphed in all bar one of their six encounters on the red stuff.

But with the Miami semis to negotiate before thoughts turn to the characteristically lengthy baseline exchanges of the clay season, Henin once again played down any bad blood between the two.

“It has always been special and it will always be special,” Henin said of the rivalry. “Kim and I grew up together, arrived on the tour at the same time, played well at the same time, retired at the same time, and now we came back at the same time.

“It’s amazing. We have never stopped respecting each other. Never, ever, ever. Even if people talk about it, we never had any problems, Kim and I.”

Mutual respect aside, Thursday’s all-Belgian duel is sure to be a bruising encounter.

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