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Clijsters battles to Sydney title

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SYDNEY, Australia -- Belgium's Kim Clijsters saved a match point before beating Serbia's Jelena Jankovic 4-6 7-6 6-4 to win a thrilling women's final at the Sydney International on Friday.

Clijsters' second victory at the tournament in four years came after a remarkable fightback as Jankovic twice served for the match in the second set and had her match point at 5-4.

Clijsters, one of the favorites for the Australian Open beginning next week, won the Sydney title in 2003 and is unbeaten in 2007 after starting her farewell year on the professional tour by winning an exhibition tournament in Hong Kong.

"It's been an incredible night for me, that was great," Clijsters said at the presentation. "Jelena's improved so much and I think she's a great player and has a great future ahead of her."

Jankovic had won nine matches in a row before her loss to Clijsters after capturing last week's Auckland Classic and winning her first four matches in Sydney to emerge as a contender for the first grand slam of the year.

Jankovic, 21, looked to be cruising to victory when she broke Clijsters' serve three times to take the opening set after 42 minutes then grabbed an early break in the second set.

She failed to serve out the match at her first attempt when Clijsters saved a match point with a deep forehand winner but got a second chance when she broke the Belgian in the next game.

A sloppy service game allowed Clijsters to force the tie-break which she won, helped in part by three double faults from the Serbian, to regain the momentum.

Clijsters raced to a 4-0 lead in the third set and although a momentary lapse in concentration allowed Jankovic to pull back one of the breaks she held her last two service games to wrap up her 34th WTA career title.

"What can I say? Kim played unbelievable tonight. She's just a great champion," Jankovic said.

Blake walkover

In the men's tournament American James Blake cruised into the final of the Sydney International when Austria's Jurgen Melzer defaulted in Friday's semifinals with stomach upset.

In a scheduling quirk, the third-seeded Blake will go for the title against Spain's Carlos Moya -- his first-round opponent at the Australian Open next week.

Moya, who survived a three-setter against Marcos Baghdatis on Thursday night, had to go the distance again to beat Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-3 4-6 6-2 as temperatures hit 100 degrees on Friday.

Melzer, blaming a batch of bad sushi, said he was so sick to his stomach that he needed an intravenous drip. He had doubts about his fitness for the Open.

"At the moment, there's no way I could play," Melzer said. "I hope that somebody from upstairs looks down on me and gets me ready."

Melzer is the seventh player this week to either withdraw or retire from a match in Sydney, and Lleyton Hewitt was a late withdrawal with a calf-muscle injury.

Women's No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne withdrew due to personal reasons that also will keep her out of the Open.

In other Australian Open warm-up tournaments, top-seeded Anna Chakvetadze beat-fellow Russian Vasilia Bardina 6-3 7-6 to win the Hobart International.

The 19-year-old Chakvetadze came into the final with a pulled stomach muscle, but was able to complete the match despite showing some signs of discomfort in the first set. "I feel good, I feel OK, almost 100 percent." said Chakvetadze. "It didn't bother me at all."

In Auckland, top seed Tommy Robredo was in rampant mood as he defeated Agustin Calleri 6-4 6-0 to set up an all-Spanish final against third seed David Ferrer.

Ferrer overcame a second-set wobble in an otherwise one-sided contest to defeat American Mardy Fish 6-0 4-6 6-1.

Robredo dropped just six points on serve in trouncing seventh seed Calleri of Argentina in 67 minutes.


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Clijsters took two-and-a-half hours to claim the Sydney title again.

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