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Clijsters knocks out brave Hingis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Second seed Kim Clijsters survived a brave fightback from comeback queen Martina Hingis to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

The U.S. Open champion won the first set 6-3 and appeared to be headed for a comfortable victory at Melbourne Park before former world number one Hingis turned the match on its head by taking the second 6-2.

Clijsters spurned two match points in the eighth game of the deciding set before serving out to love for a 6-3 2-6 6-4 victory.

Clijsters paid tribute to her Swiss opponent after her 102-minute triumph.

"She's definitely improved a lot, even to when she was at her best," added Clijsters who goes to world number one when the next rankings are released.

"This is, how do they say here, the cherry on the cake, it just tops it off," said Clijsters, who owes her new status to the victory by compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne over current top-ranked Lindsay Davenport in a quarterfinal match on Tuesday.

Clijsters now faces Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo in the semifinals after the third seed swept aside Hingis' compatriot Patty Schnyder 6-3 6-0 in an earlier quarterfinal on Wednesday.

The 26-year-old out-slugged her Swiss opponent from the baseline and never allowed her to settle in the match on center court at Rod Laver Arena.

The powerful Mauresmo continually attacked Schnyder's service game, with the Swiss unable to stamp any sort of authority on the match, and was broken six times, three times in each set.

Crowd favorites

But this merely served as a warm-up for the eagerly-anticipated clash between crowd favorites Clijsters and Hingis, a three-time winner of the Australian Open.

Hingis quit the tour in 2002 due to persistent foot and heel injuries, only returning to competitive tennis at a tournament in the Gold Coast on January 2.

She was ranked No. 349, was 7-2 coming into the match and was playing on a wild card entry at the season's first major, but had shown in winning her four previous matches at Melbourne Park that she was capable of testing Clijsters.

It looked a vain hope as the powerful Belgian dominated the first set, showing little sign of the hip and back injury that has been troubling her since pulling out of the Sydney International warm-up tournament..

Hingis fell behind a break in the second set, but proceeded to win six of the next seven games to level at one set all.

A poor start to the deciding set eventually proved her undoing, dropping service on a double fault to hand Clijsters the advantage.

Clijsters held serve in the second game with a blistering backhand winner down the line before Hingis again broke back in a see-sawing match, to take the set to 3-2.

The pair exchanged breaks again and Hingis looked in trouble when, serving at 4-5 down, she double-faulted again to hand Clijsters two match points.

The 25-year-old Swiss showed her character by saving both and forcing Clijsters to serve for the match.

But the Belgian made no mistake, serving out to love and covering her face in relief after wrapping up the victory.

"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."

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