- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2003

NEW YORK — Slump go the shoulders. Down go the eyes. Forget the scoreboard: When Lindsay Davenport gets in trouble, her body language tells the tale.

Last night she was as easy to read as Dr. Seuss.

Hobbled by a bad foot, Davenport was unable to overcome a slow and slouchy start, falling to Belgium’s Kim Clijsters 6-2, 6-3 in the U.S. Open semifinals at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The semifinal between Jennifer Capriati and Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne was too late for this edition.

With the victory, top-seeded Clijsters advanced to her second Grand Slam final this season, the third of her career.

The first WTA Tour No.1 not to have won a major title, Clijsters lost in straight sets to Henin-Hardenne in the Roland Garros final.

“It’s really motivated me,” the 20-year-old Clijsters said of her ranking. “I hope to go one step further. But it will be very tough, and I’ll have to play better than I have all tournament. I’ve been playing really well here so far.”

With boyfriend and men’s quarterfinal loser Lleyton Hewitt looking on from the stands, Clijsters relied on the surprising speed and consistent strokes that have carried her to the top of the women’s game, mixing punishing winners with a knack for chasing down seemingly unreachable balls.

Her signature shot? A sliding forehand that ends with Clijsters doing the splits, a fitting move for a player whose mother was a gymnast and whose father was a one-time Belgian World Cup soccer star.

During one exchange in the first set, Davenport crushed an overhead smash — only to see Clijsters save the ball with a splitting forehand stab, flicking a shot that Davenport couldn’t chase down.

With Davenport mounting a mini-rally early in the second set, Clijsters was at it again, this time using her flexibility to set up a perfectly placed lob on break point. The improbable shot evened the set at 2-2; Davenport slowly shook her head, her momentum utterly drained.

“I felt really good from the start,” said Clijsters, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament. “I moved really well and I served well. Against Lindsay, you have to do those things to beat her.”

While Clijsters was good, Davenport was far from great. The 1998 Open champ couldn’t plug a torturous trickle of flubbed serves and unforced errors, failing to win a service game in the first set.

Davenport hit 35 unforced errors, 18 in the first, and connected on just 53 percent of her first serves.

“I served horrendously,” said Davenport, who lost to Serena Williams in last year’s Open semifinal. “It was tough to get momentum and get anything going. [Kims] a tough opponent. But I could have done a lot of things a bit better.

“It’s disappointing to come all this way and have a performance like that. I can handle losing. I’m not afraid of that.”

Never known for her agility, Davenport also struggled with a neuroma in her left foot, a nerve injury that has bothered for much of the season and forced her to withdraw from the finals of a Open warmup tournament in New Haven, Conn., two weeks ago.

Though Davenport has been taking painkilling injections, she was wrong-footed on a number of points and appeared tentative when coming to net. Twice, she smacked easy running forehands into the tape, the second time yelping in disgust.

“I’ve been getting it numbed before every match, and besides the [Nadia] Petrova match [in the third round], my foot’s been fine,” Davenport said. “I just didn’t make the shots I needed to tonight.”

Davenport, who spoke about the possibility of retirement at Wimbledon, plans to have surgery on her foot sometime in the next month.

“The recovery time is like eight to 10 weeks,” she said. “It’s something that I put off until this tournament was over. The timing, whether it’s this week or in three weeks, I don’t know.”

Davenport also intends to return to the Tour next year.

“As of now, I’m planning to go to [the] Australian [Open] and start again next year,” she said.

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