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Clijsters entering a new era

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FILDERSTADT, Germany, Oct 2 (AFP) - Kim Clijsters, still buoyed by the capture of her first Grand Slam title three weeks ago in New York, will increasingly feel that her career is entering a new phase as she embarks upon the 650,000-dollar WTA tournament here next week.

This is the first tournament since winning the US Open in which Clijsters will be confronted by some of her principal rivals, and only the second event she has ever played without a coach.

Clijsters dispensed with the services of Marc Hous a fortnight ago, and although she did well in a modest field in Luxembourg this week, she faces a lonelier quest for further honours as she targets the year-end world number one spot for the first time.

This has made many people question why such a change should be made right now, even allowing for the fact that the Grand Slam breakthrough reinforced the 22-year-old Belgian's belief that she is capable of making more of her own decisions.

Answers have included descriptions of its symmetry - Hous started his association with Clijsters at a previous US Open - and her brief explanation: "I don't' need a coach any more."

She partly feels that because, while recovering from seven months out with a wrist injury she dug deeper into her personal resources than she ever thought possible, transforming her self-belief whilst doing it.

It simultaneously refuted the idea that Clijsters did not have the temperament for big finals and made complete one of the most remarkable comebacks of recent times.

She now realises that not only is she the best assessor of what her wrist can and cannot do - doctors had warned that she would not play again at the highest level - but also that she may be the best judge of other things too.

She has said she will play two years without a coach, with the implication she might then retire. But success creates appetite for more success, and if Clijsters ends 2005 as world number one - and she is looking like the favourite - it may generate a momentum which is difficult to halt.

Clisters has been helped by the withdrawal from Filderstadt of the current world number one, Maria Sharapova, and both the Williams sisters, all of them through injuries.

That leaves Lindsay Davenport, her conqueror at Wimbledon, as her closest rival in this popular German event with its unique club atmosphere.

It was the American who was the year-end world number one in 2004, and her last moment entry after having injury problems of her own suggest that she is keen to take calculated risks and make a push for the year-end number one spot again.

It was in Filderstadt seven years ago that Davenport overtook Martina Hingis to become world number one for the first time, and it is here this week that she could regain the number one ranking.

Davenport is also defending a title she won when Amelie Mauresmo retired injured in the 2004 final. The French woman is back again, apparently in better shape, attempting to make amends for her disappointment.

Other possible title contenders include Justine Henin-Hardenne, the French Open champion from Belgium, provided she has made a good recovery from illness, Elena Dementieva, the heroine of Russia's Fed Cup triumph in Paris last month, and Anastasia Myskina, last year's French Open champion.



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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