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Clijsters, Sharapova play for Cincinnati title

Maria Sharapova slogged through three sets while Kim Clijsters needed only 12 minutes yesterday to set up a final match at the Cincinnati Open.

sports Updated: Aug 15, 2010 11:28 IST

Maria Sharapova slogged through three sets while Kim Clijsters needed only 12 minutes on Saturday to set up a final match at the Cincinnati Open.

Clijsters progressed when Ana Ivanovic hurt her left foot during the opening set. She retired in tears with the rest of her season in doubt, and received an empathetic hug from the Belgian.

"It sounds very similar to what I had with my left foot," said Clijsters, who tore a muscle in her foot last April and missed nearly two months, including the French Open. "I hope it's not that bad."

The fourth-seeded Belgian will be well-rested when she plays her third title match of the year against Sharapova, also trying for title No. 3. She beat fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in a sloppy semifinal.

Clijsters broke Ivanovic's serve to go up 2-1. In the next game, the Serb hurt her left foot while setting up to make a forehand return from the baseline. She hit one more point during the rally _ another forehand _ then dropped her racket and bent over in pain.

"All of a sudden on that one shot, I felt something, you know, crack a little bit," Ivanovic said. "I was very scared." Ivanovic walked gingerly to her chair and took a medical timeout, removing her shoe. A trainer rubbed the inside of the foot and taped it so Ivanovic could try to continue.

After the second point _ a serve that Ivanovic didn't even bother to chase _ the match was over.

"I tried bit of tape, but I could not put any weight on it, and there was no point in me continuing," she said.

Ivanovic cried as she hobbled toward the net, where Clijsters embraced her. Then, she left to have the foot examined by a doctor. It was another major disappointment for the former No. 1-ranked player. She was limited by an injured right shoulder early in the season and had trouble getting back into form. She hasn't reached the final at any tournament this year, and came to Cincinnati ranked No. 62.

She had a good week, reaching only her third semifinal. "I played some really great tennis, and I was very excited about this match," she said.

Last year, Clijsters returned to tennis in Cincinnati after taking more than two years off to start a family and recharge. She got her game together quickly, reached the quarterfinals and built upon the momentum, winning the U.S. Open title.

This year she comes to the event off a post-Wimbledon break. Her path to the final was made easier when the Williams sisters both withdrew with injury and five of the top eight seeds were knocked out on Thursday.

She'll take the momentum into the match against Sharapova, who improved to 5-0 in semifinals this year by winning a 2-hour, 29-minute match.

Pavlyuchenkova struggled early in the second set, repeatedly hitting shots wide or dumping them into the net. The 19-year-old had spent 7 hours, 13 minutes in the heat on court in the last two days, playing singles and doubles.

She double-faulted again at 0-40 to put Sharapova up 2-1 in the second set, then called for a trainer who worked on her upper right arm and the front of her shoulder for several minutes. When she was ready to go, there was another 10-minute delay to get the court lights turned on.

Sharapova's game was out of whack when play resumed, allowing Pavlyuchenkova to even the match. They combined for 75 unforced errors in the match _ 40 by Sharapova. Pavlyuchenkova survived four break points in one game of the final set, then double-faulted for the ninth time, letting Sharapova take control at 4-2.

First Published: Aug 15, 2010 11:25 IST