Clijsters beats Sharapova in final

Associated Press

Key Biscayne, April 3:

Kim Clijsters earned another title in her remarkable return from a career-threatening wrist injury, beating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-5 in the final of the Nasdaq-100 Open.

The tournament was just the third in Clijsters’ latest comeback from the injury, which required surgery and forced her

to miss much of last year. But she has won 14 consecutive matches, including the Indian Wells title two weeks ago, and beat six top-10 players in her last nine matches.

That included the No 2-seeded Sharapova, whose superior power was negated by Clijsters’ exceptional movement and retrieval skills, leaving the Russian frustrated at times. More than once Sharapova hit an apparent winner, only to have a scrambling Clijsters keep the point alive — and eventually win it.

The only other woman to win Indian Wells and Key Biscayne consecutively was Steffi Graf in 1994 and 1996. Clijsters earned her first Key Biscayne title and became the first unseeded woman to win the tournament.

Ranked 133rd just a month ago, Clijsters will climb to 17th next week. That ensures she’ll be seeded at the French Open, where she’s a two-time runner-up.

Clijsters broke serve six times against Sharapova and led for most of each set. She was up 5-3 in the second set and served for the match at 5-4, but hit two errant forehands and several other tentative shots, and Sharapova broke for 5-all.

Sharapova hit four errant backhands in the next game, a 12-point duel, and Clijsters broke to serve for the match again. Sharapova saved two match points, but on the third she sent a return long, giving Clijsters the title.

Clijsters received $4,05,000, while Sharapova earned $212,000.

Top-ranked Roger Federer, bidding for his first Key Biscayne title, plays 18-year-old Spaniard Rafael Nadal in the final. Federer has won 17 consecutive finals and is a heavy favorite, as Nadal acknowledged in broken English.