Venus Williams is happy to see Kim Clijsters back, but she is on her guard against the dangerous Belgian who says she has nothing to lose.
Williams has no room for sentiment
Venus Williams is happy to see her next rival return to court but the American is hoping she manages curtail Kim Clijsters' US Open comeback when they meet today in the fourth round. They last went head-to-head four years ago and their relationship dates back almost a decade yet there will be no room for sentiment when Williams faces off against the Belgian at the Flushing Meadows in New York.
The battle between the two former US Open champions has been one of the most eagerly-anticipated showdowns expected at this year's tournament and when the duo turned the dream into reality, neither were ready to talk up their chances. On paper Williams should be the overwhelming favourite to win the contest since she is the world No 3 while Clijsters does not even own a ranking as she is playing in only her third event after taking a two-year break to start a family.
But the Belgian has already proved to be a thorn on the side of top players such as the French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who was beaten by Clijsters last month, and Williams is on guard. "She's obviously a very determined woman and very talented. Put those two together and you get great tennis. "She is living her dream on and off the court," Williams said after beating Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2, 7-5 on Friday.
"Obviously, it's great to see her back but I want to advance to the next round." Williams leads their head-to-head record 6-4 but Clijsters beat the American en route to winning the 2005 US Open title and is hungry to enjoy another win at the start of what she calls "a second career". "It's a big challenge for me. I've got nothing to lose. I'm going to go out there and just give it 200 per cent," said the 26-year-old after beating Kirsten Flipkens 6-0, 6-2.
"I know what kind of tennis I have to bring. But obviously it's been so long that I stood in front of someone like her, who can play as well as she can. "I know that serving is going to be very important. I'm going to really have to make sure I get a high first serve percentage in, stay aggressive and keep the unforced errors low." Some former players have tipped Clijsters to win the encounter as Williams has been struggling with tendinitis in her left knee but the Belgian refused to get distracted by Williams's injury woes.
"She's obviously been playing pretty good, moving well, so I don't think it's really bothering her that much. She's still playing doubles [so] I assume if it was that bad, she wouldn't be playing both events," said Clijsters. Venus' younger sister and world No 2 Serena had a 6-3, 7-5 win over Spain's Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, and will next face Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova. On the men's side, Rafael Nadal came past a stubborn Nicolas Keifer in a marathon third set of his second round match before advancing past a hurdle that turned out to be more difficult than expected.
His 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory completed a clean sweep for the top 16 players. They are 32-0 through two rounds, the first time that has happened in the 41-year history of Open era of grand slams. "A very good practice for me, no?" Nadal said. "To play in three hours is a very good test. At the same time, it's important. "The first day, I didn't have any bad moment, any pressure moment. Today, I had to do more."
While Nadal welcomed a tougher test as he makes his way back from knee tendinitis that forced him to skip Wimbledon, the display raised doubts about whether the Spaniard can win the title here. "He was getting a little bit tired," Kiefer said. The world No 3 Nadal and his predecessor Andy Murray, who defeated Paul Capdeville of Chile 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2, are the only two players in the top 10 to have dropped a set over their first two rounds.
The French pair Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon were other top-10 seeded players to progress Friday. * With agencies