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Clijsters back in grand fashion, Serena wins

KIM Clijsters returned to grand slam tennis in a big way by bouncing Venus Williams out of the US Open yesterday, while kid sister Serena picked up the slack by digging in for an extended stay in New York.

There was no shortage of drama amid the elegant weather at Flushing Meadows, with Rafael Nadal advancing to the fourth-round with more eyes than usual focused on his abs.

The scores of ticket-holders flocking into a sold-out National Tennis Center correctly sensed that Day Seven of the year's final grand slam would be special.

Clijsters's electrifying return to the sport's grand stage after a two-year hiatus had more than 23,000 in Arthur Ashe Stadium cheering her every move.

She took a bite out of Venus's Big Apple experience with a wacky 6-0 0-6 6-4 victory, a one-hour, 42-minute theatrical adventure able to rival anything on nearby Broadway.

"It was unbelievable," said the euphoric Belgian, who left the game to start her family. "I don't really know what to say. It was such a weird match.

"After I lost the second set 6-0 I was just like, okay, just start over and fight for every point," added Clijsters, who will next come up against Li Na after the Chinese player beat Italy's Francesca Schiavone 6-2 6-3.

Winning on the Open's marquee court provided a sense of deja vu for the unseeded 26-year-old Clijsters, who won the title here in 2005. However, since her return is only weeks old, she does not even have a ranking.

"It's still kind of hard to believe," she said. "But then again, I'm not trying to get carried away with it all. Just trying to focus on what I have to do because the tournament's still going."

"She played well," offered third-seeded Venus, whose quest for a third Open title - and first since 2001 -- was derailed. "She's always played well throughout her career. I'm sure she'll continue to do that."

With 29-year-old Venus having checked out of the tournament, number two seed Serena had the family flag still flying high with a 6-2 6-0 annihilation of Daniela Hantuchova.

The Slovakian has already pencilled in her choice as the last woman standing, saying: "When she's playing like this, I don't think there's anybody that can beat her."


Nadal knocked off Spanish compatriot and childhood friend Nicolas Almagro 7-5 6-4 6-4 in a third-round match but the southpaw drew the most attention when he was prone on the court.

While trailing 2-1 in the third set, the muscle-bound Nadal was flat on his back having his stomach taped by tournament medics.

Nadal, a 23-year-old with tendinitis in both knees, is looking to complete his career grand slam but that may be too tough a task with an injury-wracked body.

The Majorca native was giving no clues as to the extent of his latest misery, believed to be a problem with his right abdominal muscle that first surfaced in Cincinnati last month.

"No, no, I am a little bit tired to talk about injuries," he said after his two-hour, 39-minute victory. "I am here to try my best every day. I won the match in three sets, so happy for that. I'm going to try my best next round. That's all."

Other winners on the men's side included sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, French seventh seed Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain and Chile's Fernando Gonzalez.


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