Hantuchova, Clijsters reach JPMorgan Chase final

August 14, 2005 01:30 AM

CARSON, Calif. (AP) - Daniela Hantuchova mixed solid serves with drop shots to upset third-seeded Elena Dementieva 6-3, 6-4 in the JPMorgan Chase Open semifinals Saturday.

The 22-year-old Slovak reached her first final in more than a year and just the fourth of her career.

''I'm really excited,'' she said. ''I feel like I had a great summer so far. I'm really enjoying it.''

In Sunday's final, Hantuchova will play fifth-seeded Kim Clijsters, who rallied from deficits in both sets to beat No. 13 seed Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-2, 6-4.

Clijsters will be going for her fifth title of the year after coming back from wrist surgery last year. She is 6-0 against Hantuchova in her career.

Clijsters improved to 30-1 in the United States, a streak dating back to her victory at the season-ending WTA Championships in 2003. Her only defeat came last week in the quarterfinals at Carlsbad, where she lost to Chinese teenager Peng Shuai.

''I feel good here,'' Clijster said. ''I enjoy playing here.''

She improved to 44-6 this year, the most victories on the WTA Tour.

The Belgian trailed 2-0 before twice breaking Schiavone at love to win the first set. She trailed 3-1 in the second after getting broken during a five-deuce game when she mis-hit a forehand.

But Clijsters held serve, then broke Schiavone at love and hit a backhand winner to go up 4-3. Schiavone held at 4-4 before Clijsters won the final two games.

''I can hit some winners with my forehand and that's where I put on some pressure. My serve kept me in a lot of games, too,'' Clijsters said. ''This is the best that I've felt so far. I was moving well, I was quick on my feet.''

Clijsters' American boyfriend, Brian Lynch, alternated watching the match with reading a book that she gave him. She didn't mind, saying, ''I prefer people who are relaxed in my box. I don't want people who are jumping up.''

It was Hantuchova's first victory over Dementieva since 2002, the best year so far of her fledgling career.

Back then, Hantuchova won her first WTA Tour singles title at Indian Wells, Calif., beating Martina Hingis in the final, and reached the semifinals or better at six tournaments. She finished the year ranked eighth in the world.

But after getting to No. 5 early in 2003, she was beset by personal problems and slumped to 19th at year's end, never beating a higher-ranked player.

''I wouldn't really like to go back to those times again,'' she said.

Hantuchova ended last year at No. 31, reaching only the Eastbourne final on grass, where she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova.

This year, Hantuchova has a 23-17 match record, and made the semifinals in Doha in February and Cincinnati a few weeks ago.

She hired a personal trainer to travel with her, so she can work out on days when she doesn't play matches.

''I don't waste any more of my time,'' she said. ''It makes such a difference knowing I can hit that one extra shot. That makes life much more easier.''

She received a walkover in the quarterfinals when top-seeded Maria Sharapova withdrew Friday because of a strained chest muscle.

Dementieva brought a 6-2 career record into the semifinals against Hantuchova, having won their previous three consecutive meetings.

``This was one of the best matches I've played against her,'' Hantuchova said. ``I tried to step it up a little bit, went for my shots and be aggressive, but at same time be a little smarter.''

Hantuchova won the first game with a 104-mph serve and never looked back. She earned the only two service breaks of the match. Dementieva managed only two break points against Hantuchova, who converted 85 percent of her first serves.

``She mixed it up with her serve very well and I couldn't break her,'' Dementieva said. ``She has a great serve, a very solid game, all she needs is to move like she did today. She could be in the top five.''

Hantuchova closed the first set in 33 minutes with a 103-mph serve that her Russian opponent returned into the net.

Tied 2-all in the second set, Dementieva struggled to hold while facing four break points. Hantuchova cracked a forehand crosscourt to go up 3-2 and won three of the final five games to close it out.

Hantuchova mixed up her shots, catching Dementieva too deep on drop shots. She won 8-of-10 points at the net.

``She was very aggressive from the first ball,'' Dementieva said. ``She moved me around very well. I was playing kind of defensive all the time and that's what I don't like to do.''