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Clijsters continues winning ways; Jankovic survives as Ivanovic falls in Cincinnati

Former world No. 1 Kim Clijsters continued her remarkable comeback to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour with a second consecutive win over a Top 20 player, this time defeating world No. 20 Patty Schnyder, 6-2, 7-5, on Wednesday afternoon to advance to the third round at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

Quickly getting in front 3-0 in the opening set, Clijsters eventually took the opening set 6-3, backed by winning 15 of 16 first serve points and breaking serve twice in the 23-minute set.

“I’m very happy that I’m starting the matches off well,” said Clijsters, a winner of 34 career singles titles including the 2005 US Open. “

The 26-year-old Belgian continued showing the signs of consistent tennis and superb fitness that was clear during her first round triumph over No. 12 seed Marion Bartoli.

“The main thing I was happy with today was the first serve percentage was a lot better than in the first match,” said Clijsters.

Schnyder picked up her game in the early stages of second set, before Clijsters broke in the 12th game and never looked back.

“She just had a great start,” said Schnyder, who won the title in Cincinnati in 2005. “She’s striking the ball great. It was really tough to get the rallies going and to get some advantage in the rallies.”

Clijsters’ was able to win the match without facing a break point on her serve, while smashing four aces and only two double faults. Schnyder, who was making her fourth appearance in Cincinnati, falls to 2-6 lifetime against Clijsters.

Next up for the newest mother on tour, is a third round match-up against reigning Roland Garros champion and No. 6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. Clijsters has dominated Kuznetsova in the past, winning six of seven meetings.

In other matches, No. 5 seed Jelena Jankovic saved two set points in the opening set tiebreak to edge past Russian wild card Maria Kirilenko, 7-6(6), 6-3, in one hour and 45 minutes. A match full of serving problems featured 13 service breaks and a combined 10 double faults.

“First match for me, it’s never easy,” said Jankovic, who finished the 2008 season as the top-ranked player in the world. “You know, I had trouble holding my serve, especially in that first set. I was returning well, but I wasn’t putting many first serves in, and kept playing with the second serve almost throughout the whole first set.”

Jankovic will next square off against No. 9 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus for a place in the quarterfinals. Azarenka stormed past Russian Anna Chakvetadze, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 21 minutes. Jankovic leads the head-to-head 2-1, winning both matches on hard courts in 2007.

Eleventh seed Ana Ivanovic’s struggles since winning the 2008 Roland Garros title continued, as she was bounced by in-form Melinda Czink, 7-6(6), 7-5. Ivanovic struggled with her ball toss for the second straight match, hitting 11 double faults and dropping her serve five times. The loss marked the second early exit in as many weeks, after losing in the third round last week to Samantha Stosur in straight sets in Los Angeles.

In the late match, No. 2 seed Serena Williams sailed past Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko, 6-3, 6-2. Williams, who won her 11th Grand Slam singles title earlier this summer at Wimbledon, smashed 12 aces, while dropping just three points on first serve. The Florida native was also able to break serve on three of six occasions. Williams will next clash with Sybille Bammer in the third round. Bammer won the only previous meeting in three sets in Hobart in 2007.

Other winners on Wednesday in Cincinnati:
No. 4 Elena Dementieva def. (Q) Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3
No. 7 Vera Zvonareva def. Alisa Kleybanova, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5
No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki def. Aleksandra Wozniak, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
Sybille Bammer def. No. 13 Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-0, 7-5
No. 14 Flavia Pennetta def. Agnes Szavay, 6-2, 6-2
Sorana Cirstea def. Anna-Lena Groenfeld, 6-3, 6-2
Daniela Hantuchova def. Alona Bondarenko, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4
Peng Shuai def. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchzez, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1

Safina Survives Opening Round Scare In Cincinnati

Two points from defeat in the second set, World No. 1 Dinara Safina rallied to defeat Italian Roberta Vinci, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, to advance to the third round on Tuesday afternoon at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

Jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, the Russian quickly faded, losing nine straight games to the more consistent Vinci.

“I started pretty good, actually. 2-0 up, and to lose nine games in a row, it didn’t happen for me for a while,” said Safina, a winner of 12 career singles titles.

Vinci, ranked No. 46, was steadier throughout the up and down match, but could not serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, as Safina eventually won the set, 7-5.

The 23-year-old Russian, who hit 48 unforced errors compared to 28 by Vinci, fell behind 2-0 in the final set before finding her rhythm to sneak past the Italian for the third time in her career.

“Slowly I think she got tight, said Safina, who was a finalist earlier this year at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. “I don’t know what happened to her because I was completely off.

In the match that lasted just under two hours, both players broke serve on eight occasions, while Safina hit 10 doubles faults compared to eight by Vinci. Despite serving struggles throughout, both players won over 60 percent of first serve points.

Safina, who has been the top ranked player in the world for 17 consecutive weeks, will next face the winner of the second round match between Shuai Peng and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

In other action, No. 6 seed and reigning Roland Garros champ Svetlana Kuznetsova was pushed to her limits, but survived to advance to the third round with a 6-2, 6-7(2), 7-6(4), win over Lucie Safarova. Kuznetosva, smashed 10 aces, won 78 percent of first serve points and broke serve on five of ten occasions en route to victory.

Defending champion and No. 10 seed Nadia Petrova of Russia and No. 15 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia were not as fortunate as Safina and Kuznetsova to advance, both bowing out relatively easy.

Petrova, a winner of nine career singles titles, lost to Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-3, in 53-minutes. The Belarusian, who turns 25-years-old on Thursday, won 22 of 25 first serve points, while breaking serve four times. For a place in the third round, Bondarenko will battle Daniela Hantuchova, who defeated Sara Errani, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

Cibulkova, a semifinalist at Roland Garros in May, fell to world No. 40 Shuai Peng, 6-2, 6-1, in 70-minutes. Peng, who is playing in just her second tournament since Wimbledon, will play Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez on Wednesday afternoon.

Azarenka, Ivanovic soar into second round in Cincinnati

In their first appearances at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati, Ninth-seeded Victoria Azarenka and No. 11 Ana Ivanovic advanced to the second round.

Azarenka, who has won three singles titles this season, held off Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, 6-3, 7-6(2), in the opening match of the tournament. Ivanovic, a former world No. 1, rallied from a first set hiccup to bounce American qualifier Melanie Oudin, 2-6, 6-1, 6-1, in 88 minutes.

The 20-year-old Belarusian was solid throughout the one hour and 29-minute match, committing only 15 unforced errors compared to 36 by Kanepi. Azarenka won 75 percent of first serve points, while breaking serve on three of seven occasions. Azarenka has now won both meetings against Kanepi and will next face Russian Anna Chakvetadze, who defeated Elena Vesnina, 7-5, 6-3.

After looking like another early round exit was in store for the former Roland Garros champion, Ivanovic quickly turned things around as the 17-year-old Oudin began to fade.

Ivanovic struggled a great deal with her ball toss, hitting six double faults, but insisted afterwards that she has had more pace on her serve and her shoulder problems are gone. The 21-year-old Serb was very consistent from the baseline in the final two sets, breaking serve five times.

Play was suspended in the third set due to heavy thunderstorms with Ivanovic leading 4-1. But after play resumed following a lengthy delay, Ivanovic lost just three points en route to victory.

Ivanovic next faces Melinda Czink of Hungary, who defeated Alize Cornet, 6-3, 6-2. Ivanovic has won all three previous meetings against Czink, winning most recently at Wimbledon in 2007.

Kim Clijsters Victorious In Return To Sony Ericsson WTA Tour

Kim Clijsters’ highly anticipated comeback to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour after a two year hiatus was marked by an impressive, 6-4, 6-3, victory over No. 12 seed Marion Bartoli on Monday night at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open in Cincinnati.

Clijsters, the 2005 US Open champion, came out firing, jumping out to a 4-0 lead by running down every shot in sight and smashing winners from all across the baseline. The former world No. 1 then saw her lead slip away, as Bartoli evened things at 4-4. But Clijsters broke Bartoli’s serve to take a 5-4 lead and then consolidated the break to take the opening set in front of the pro-Clijsters crowd.

The momentum stayed with Clijsters throughout the second set as the Belgian maintained her high-level of play by breaking serve for a 3-1 lead. Although she faced 10 break points, the 26-year-old and mother of 18-month-old daughter, Jada, won 20 of 30 first serve points and broke serve on four of six occasions en route to victory.

“I was really excited to be out there,” said Clijsters. “I’m excited I will be playing another match.”

Monday’s match was Clijsters’ first match since May 2007, when she lost to Julia Vakulenko in straight sets in the first round in Warsaw, Poland, and later that month announced her retirement from professional tennis citing injuries.

With a compelling victory over a Top 15 player, who just beat Venus Williams to win the title in Stanford, Clijsters’ peers will immediately feel her presence on the tour.

“Without playing a match for two years, it is pretty amazing the level she already has right now,” said Bartoli.

Although her entourage will be with her all week in Cincinnati, as well as next week in Toronto and at the US Open, Clijsters indicated that she will have to balance the physical demands of competitive tennis and family life on the road before she can commit to a full-time schedule.

“I’m not going to have the same type of schedule, 20, 21 tournaments,” said Clijsters, a winner of 34 career singles titles. “I want to see where I am and what is possible, how many weeks I can be away, those are the type of details I need to work out. It is very hard for me to say these are my long term plans.

Awaiting Clijsters in the second round is Patty Schnyder, who beat Gisela Dulko, 6-4, 6-0. Clijsters owns a 5-2 edge against the lefty from Switzerland and has won three of the meetings on hardcourts.