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Clijsters leads Belgium to victory

January 05, 2004 12:12 IST
Last Updated: January 05, 2004 12:20 IST

Kim Clijsters clattered a bewildered Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 6-2 on Monday to steer Belgium towards victory over Slovakia in the Hopman Cup.

Xavier Malisse finished the job with a hot-and-cold 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 win over Karol Kucera.

In the inconsequential doubles, Malisse and Clijsters beat Kucera and Hantuchova 6-2, 6-4

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World number two Clijsters barely put a foot wrong in her first match of 2004, dropping just four points in the first four games, as she lashed winner after winner past the lunging Slovak.

Clijsters wrapped up the opening set in just 18 minutes as fiancÚ and former men's world number one Lleyton Hewitt settled down at the Burswood Dome to watch the match.

Her large diamond engagement ring glinting in the light, Clijsters finished with an array of perfectly-placed shots.

"That felt really good, I didn't think I would start the year like this," the Belgian smiled. "I have been good in practice but not like that."

Runner-up at the French and U.S. Opens last year, losing on both occasions to compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne, Clijsters has her focus firmly fixed on a maiden grand slam title this year. The Australian Open starts in Melbourne on January 19.

"Yeah, I came pretty close last year and that is what I am aiming for now," she said. "That's what all the hard work the last month has been about."

Clijsters has been training in Adelaide with Hewitt, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion.

While the Australian has bulked up and added power to his game, Clijsters is looking faster than ever around the court.

"I've been doing a lot of sprints in Adelaide and that has really helped," the 20-year-old said.

While Clijsters was impeccable on day two of the mixed team event, Malisse looked rusty during his encounter. A powerful first set was in stark contrast to the second when he allowed Kucera to dominate.

But Malisse found his form as quickly as it had deserted him in the third set, racing through it 6-1 to complete the Belgian win.

"Yeah, I was pretty rusty," he said. "It was tough to be consistent so I'm happy to have won."

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