Originally created 06/08/06

Old foes are back where it all began

PARIS - Accomplishments accumulate, the years begin to blur and suddenly Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters start sounding like old-timers.

In tennis years, they're getting up there.

Henin-Hardenne celebrated her 24th birthday last week. Clijsters turns 23 today, when the two Grand Slam champions from Belgium meet for a berth in the French Open final.

"This is where it all started for both of us in a way, you know, I don't know how many years ago now," Clijsters said.

It was back in 2001 that they met in the Roland Garros semifinals, with Clijsters winning. Henin-Hardenne won the rematch two years later for the first of her two French Open titles.

"We have a lot of respect for each other," Henin-Hardenne said. "We each know what each of us has done is quite fabulous. ... Everybody will pay a lot of attention to this match."

There's a hazard, however, for established stars: Some kid is always trying to steal the show. At this year's tournament, it's 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova.

The precocious Czech pulled off her second consecutive upset in the quarterfinals Tuesday, beating Venus Williams to earn her first Grand Slam semifinal berth.

Vaidisova's opponent today will be 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Clijsters leads her rivalry with Henin-Hardenne 10-7, but they've met only once since January 2005. Henin-Hardenne has won their past three Grand Slam matches.

There was a strain in the relationship for a time, but they're friends again and Federation Cup teammates.

"We put the problems of the past aside," Henin-Hardenne said.

Clijsters, who won the U.S. Open last year for her first Grand Slam title, will regain the No. 1 ranking from Amelie Mauresmo if she reaches the final. Still, she plans to retire sometime in 2007 after battling wrist, ankle, knee and back injuries.


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