Clijsters steps out as Henin skips on

 

TENNIS: Two Belgians went in. One came out. Yesterday it was Justin Henin, last year's finalist, that survived the outside Court Two, with fifth seed Kim Clijsters joining the long list of seeds that have gone out of this year's overall competition, but the highest women's seed so far to fall.

Clijsters, who is living with a shoulder injury and is forced to balance tournaments, rest and practice, had the same power as she did last year when she reached the quarter-final before being beaten by Lindsay Davenport, but very rarely was it contained against the 48th-ranked player in the world, Elena Likhovtseva.

Although low in the rankings now, the Russian's was once at 15, but even so 19-year-old Clijsters couldn't escape the fact that her ground shots, particularly the normally reliable forehand, couldn't consistently keep the ball in the court.

Unusually philosophical about the defeat, Clijsters refused to be morose after the match. She leaves behind the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, who are through with Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles, who made impressively short work of the delightfully named Rossana Neffa-De Los Rios. The old Seles' pounding strokes particularly got going in the second set, winning it 6-0 after a 6-4 first. The simple task took the former world number one just 57 minutes.

But for Clijsters, defeat is just the beginning of a longer road.

"This year it's going to be tough for me because I don't have a lot of match rhythm," she said. "Especially in these big tournaments, the first rounds are going to be tough. But it's all a challenge and it is something I'm going to have to work on the rest of the year until I have some more time off to rest my shoulder and my arm.

"The doctors gave me a few options when they diagnosed my problem and surgery was probably the last one they suggested because they couldn't promise me that was going to help either."

Likhovtseva, who was totally unaware of the reputation of Court Two for raining down doom on the heads of big names, carried out her coaches instructions to the letter and kept Clijsters under consistent pressure.

Although the Belgian went 5-2 up in the first set tie break, she lost five straight points to hand it over to Likhovtseva. In the second set she continued hitting with abandon, dropping serve twice for 6-2.

"My coach told me I had to be aggressive with Kim otherwise she would put me under too much pressure," said Likhovtseva."So I just tried to take my chances, go down the line and make her run."

The unseeded player now faces the battling Brit wildcard Elena Baltacha, another player whose father was an international footballer with Ukraine. Clijsters father, Leo, played for Belgium. Likhovtseva has already played Baltacha in the qualifying round at Eastbourne prior to Wimbledon and beat her 7-5, 7-6.

"She's young. I know she serves good and she can play good but she's still . . . she has a lot of unforced errors," said a confident Likhovtseva, before adding the withering "and I guess she struggles a bit under pressure."

The third round match is likely to be staged on one of the show courts, possibly Centre Court. That's pressure. "Yeah," said the Russian. "The bigger the better."

Seles was chipper after her match. A virus that had knocked her for six in Paris has burned out, but after her match, two people from the spectator area dressed in tennis whites and carrying racquets jumped over the small barrier onto the Centre Court and had a quick knock about before being escorted from the stadium by security. It occurred just after her match against De Los Rios had ended.

All fun, but Seles was again reminded of her brush with death when she was stabbed in the back in 1993 by an unhinged Steffi Graf fan, Guenter Parche, during a change over at a match in Hamburg against Graf.

At that point in her career Seles had won eight Grand Slam titles. Following her return to the sport two years and three months later she has won one, the 1996 Australian Open.

"I couldn't comment," said Seles when asked about her thoughts on the two men skipping over onto the court. "I think that's the tournament's responsability so . . . " When asked whether she was happy with the security at Wimbledon, the 29- year-old, who has never won here, said: "Yes, I am."