Pierce surprises Clijsters

Mary Pierce surprised Kim Clijsters 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (2) at the WTA Championships on Tuesday in a wildly uneven rematch of their United States Open final.

Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport improved to 7-0 lifetime against Nadia Petrova of Russia with a 6-2, 7-6 (1) victory in round-robin play.

Defending champion Maria Sharapova defeated Patty Schnyder of Switzerland 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, making Schnyder 0-3 in opening matches of the season-ending tournament.

Davenport didn’t face a break point on her serve. She fired nine aces and connected on 74% of her first serves against Petrova, a first-time singles qualifier in the championships.

“That really made a difference,” Davenport said. “I’ve always struggled a little bit here because there’s no backdrop.
I lose my depth perception.”

Clijsters beat Pierce in straight sets to win her first grand-slam title in September.

“I was just hoping it would be better than the last match,” said Pierce, who had never beaten the 22-year-old Belgian in three previous meetings.

This time, Pierce held a match point in the second set in front of a sparse crowd at Staples Center, but Clijsters reeled off three straight points to even the match.

Clijsters was off her game from the start, committing 31 unforced errors and 11 double faults. Pierce was equally messy, making 21 errors, although she converted five of seven break chances.

“In the first set, Kim wasn’t playing well. Something was bothering her and she wasn’t moving,” Pierce said. “I was surprised how I won the first set quickly and easily.”

Clijsters arrived in Los Angeles last Friday, and is still overcoming jet lag.

“I never felt like I was quite there. I felt really tired,” she said. “The only thing I want to do is go to the hotel and go to sleep.”

Pierce had a similar feeling earlier in the day.

“I had a nap and I didn’t want to get out of bed,” she said. “What motivated me is next week I’ll be on vacation.”

Early in the second set, Pierce chased a drop shot and leaned on the net, causing it to partially collapse.

“It almost took me out,” she said. “I scraped my knees.”

Clijsters broke to open the third set and owned a 3-1 lead before Pierce rallied in her first appearance in the season-ending championships since 1999.

“The third set was a battle,” Pierce said. “I kept fighting and hanging in there.”

Pierce trailed love-40 on her serve before winning five straight points, including a 174kph ace, to close to 3-2. Clijsters double-faulted to fall into a four-all tie.

Pierce served a 40-love game to go up 5-4 and then Clijsters won two straight games for a 6-5 lead. Clijsters won one point on her serve before being broken at 6-all.

“I was not seeing the ball at all. With the lights, it felt too bright and it was hurting my eyes,” she said. “My mind was not ready to play a match. These kinds of days happen.”

Pierce dominated the tiebreaker, winning five of the last six points to close out the match on Clijsters’s backhand error.

At 30, Pierce is nearing the end of a dream season in which she reached two grand-slam finals and won two titles to return to the top five for the first time in five years.

Clijsters, ranked number two in the world, is challenging Davenport for the year-end number-one ranking. They are separated by 155 points, and whoever has the better showing this week will wind up on top.

Clijsters has won a Tour-leading nine titles this year. The loss snapped her nine-match winning streak in the championships, which she won in 2002 and 2003.

Sharapova earned the only break of the third set in the second game, when Schnyder was held to one point. Sharapova blew two match points leading 5-2, and the 18-year-old Russian faced a break point on her serve in the final game.

The women combined for 62 unforced errors and 55 winners.

“It was up and down,” Sharapova said. “I felt a little awkward in some situations because I haven’t been match-tough lately. I’m absolutely exhausted.”

Pierce leads the Black group with a 1-0 record, while Clijsters is 0-1. Amelie Mauresmo and Elena Dementieva play their first matches on Wednesday.

Davenport, Sharapova, Schnyder and Petrova are in the Green group. The top two finishers in each group advance to the semifinals, which are single elimination.—Sapa-AP

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