Martina Hingis found out yesterday that she can still slug it out with the best but has a way to go to get back to the top.
Second-seeded Kim Clijsters, overcoming a rash of mistakes, ended Hingis' dramatic comeback run at the Australian Open, winning 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to reach the semifinals and take over the No. 1 ranking.
"We were talking a little bit in the locker room before the match," Clijsters said after Hingis, a three-time champion here, exited Rod Laver Arena to a loud ovation. "It was fun to see how motivated she is to play well and to get back.
"She's improved a lot since she was at her best," she said.
But that was when the power surge in women's tennis was just picking up momentum. While Hingis showed that she wasn't overmatched from the baseline, her weak serve let her down, setting up easy Clijsters winners.
Asked if she learned anything, Hingis said: "Speed is important."
Despite the loss, she said she was satisfied with her first Grand Slam event since 2002.
"I think I can be proud of myself," Hingis said. "You just can't think you're going to go out there and win everything. Losing to Kim today still gives me so much to look forward to. I just have to work harder. I have to start believing."
The victory guaranteed that reigning US Open champion Clijsters will take over the top ranking from Lindsay Davenport, who lost in the quarterfinals.
"After the year I had last year, this is the cherry on the cake," she said. "It was never a goal. Keep working hard and good things happen."
She next plays No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, who reeled off the last nine games in a 6-3, 6-0 quarterfinal win over No. 7 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland.
On the men's side, No. 21 Nicolas Kiefer of Germany survived a nearly five-hour match -- and a 96-minute final set -- to beat No. 25 Sebastien Grosjean of France 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 6-7 (1), 8-6 to advance to the semifinals.
Kiefer will play the winner of the late match between top-ranked Roger Federer and No. 5 Nikolay Davydenko.
Hingis quit the tour in 2002 due to persistent foot and heel injuries. Ranked No. 349 and playing on a wild-card entry, she returned to competitive tennis on Jan. 2 and was 7-2 coming into the match.
But the best player that she had beaten here was 30th-seeded Vera Zvonareva in the first round, and everyone was eagerly waiting to see what would happen when she faced a top player like Clijsters.
Hingis looked nervous, tentative and overmatched at the start, as Clijsters won 12 of the first 16 points and jumped ahead 4-0.
With shadows creeping across the court, the crowd began almost evenly split for the two players but shifted quickly to the beleaguered Hingis, who twice angrily whacked balls into the net after missing easy volleys.
Clijsters was picking up easy points off her serve and pouncing on Hingis weak serves, which often were 30kmh slower.
Although she faltered early, often finding herself lunging for stinging Clijsters groundstrokes deep in the corners, Hingis stayed in the match with her defense.
Clijsters led by a set and a break, and an easy victory seemed certain. Then Hingis settled in and started measuring Clijsters' speed as the Belgian's consistency collapsed in an avalanche of errors.
Clijsters, who has been suffering from hip and back pain, was looking stiff, spraying shots all over the place, and finished with 48 unforced errors. But she pulled herself back together in the third set.