Tue, Oct 28, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Clisters no friend of mine, rival says

AP , BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

While the No. 1 women's ranking bounces between them, Justine Henin-Hardenne has admitted she and Belgian compatriot Kim Clijsters have no relationship and are not friends.

Clijsters was set to replace Henin-Hardenne atop the WTA Tour yesterday. Clijsters' 10-week reign ended a week ago when Henin-Hardenne beat her in the Zurich final and became No. 1 for the first time. But she virtually conceded the top ranking when she said she was too exhausted to defend her Generali Open title in Austria this past week.

While Clijsters celebrated reclaiming No. 1 by winning her third straight SEAT Open title in Luxembourg on Sunday, Henin-Hardenne took time to highlight their rocky relationship.

In a week in which Belgium produced stamps of their two stars, Henin-Hardenne made it clear that beyond sharing nationality, there was nothing that bound them.

Henin-Hardenne said Clijsters had disappointed her during the summer by claiming she had faked an injury after losing the first set of the San Diego final to gain a psychological break. Henin-Hardenne went on to win.

"She hurt me after the San Diego final," Henin-Hardenne told the Brussels daily Le Soir. But, she added, it didn't affect their relationship since there was none to start out with.

"Nothing was broken between us because there was nothing to break. We have always protected this image of friendship that never existed," Henin-Hardenne said.

"In the end, what happened is good, because now, things are very clear."

In the absence of the injured Williams sisters, the battle of the Belgians for the No. 1 ranking will continue to the end of the year, at least.

Next week, the Belgians will end their sterling seasons at the WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles. And unless Clijsters successfully defends that title and her No. 1 ranking, Henin-Hardenne will be favored to end the season on top.

Both players have eight tournament wins so far this year, and Henin-Hardenne beat Clijsters in the final of the French Open and US Open.

Before the US Open, both players said any perceived problems between them were nonsense.

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