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Vying for the vast pot of gold on the shores of the Persian Gulf, Wozniacki and Clijsters reprise their collision in the 2009 US Open final.  That match produced a scoreline less intriguing than its events would suggest, for the Dane came within a few points of winning the first set and tested the Belgian in a series of elongated rallies.  Slightly more poised when the US Open title hung in the balance, Clijsters hopes to reproduce that performance in Doha, but she faces a more mature and determined edition of Wozniacki this time.

Why Clijsters might win:  Entering only seven previous hard-court tournaments this year, the Belgian nevertheless won four titles on her favorite surface.  En route to the winner’s podium in Brisbane, Miami, Cincinnati, and New York, she overcame such luminaries as Henin (twice), Venus (twice), and Sharapova. In 2010, Clijsters has won not only all four of her finals but all nine of her meetings with opponents who have held the #1 ranking.     Intriguingly, each of Kim’s hard-court losses this year came against Russians (Petrova, Kleybanova, Zvonareva), so perhaps Wozniacki should consider changing her passport. Moreover, the Belgian seems unruffled by any potential off-court distractions, whether the absence of her family or the car accident just before her semifinal.  Playing just well enough to win for much of the week, the world #3 probably recognizes that little lies at stake for her here; a second title at the season-ending event adds little of consequence to the resume of a three-time Slam champion.  Rather than sapping her motivation, this circumstance should allow Clijsters to find the relaxed, flowing brand of tennis that she displays when at her best.  Not a devotee of drama like Serena and Sharapova or an acolyte of artistry like Henin, Kim functions most effectively when she keeps her emotions at bay.  Like most of Wozniacki’s opponents, she must balance patient point construction with aggressively stepping inside the baseline at opportune moments.  Unlike most of Wozniacki’s opponents, however, Clijsters possesses the ideal set of tools to solve this riddle, especially the lithe and explosive moment that alloss her to transition so swiftly from defense to offense.

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Why Wozniacki might win:  In contrast to her opponent, the world #1 can augment her reputation as much as her bank account with a title at the most important non-major on the calendar.  Although she can’t silence her critics until she captures a Slam, the Dane would deliver a compelling statement of intent by conquering the reigning US Open champion.  Having won six consecutive finals, Wozniacki has accumulated much more experience in championship matches—and consequently greater self-belief—than she had when she met Clijsters at the US Open a year ago.  Extended to three sets in her last two title tilts, she responds more resolutely to adversity than she did in that match, when she faltered slightly after the disappointment of losing the first set.  Somewhat fortunate to escape the first set of her semifinal against Zvonareva, Wozniacki has distributed four breadsticks and a bagel this week against three top-10 opponents.  While Clijsters has unleashed her share of aces in Doha, she won’t serve the Dane off the court as did Stosur.  The 20-year-old #1 can settle into baseline rallies and establish a groundstroke rhythm, aware that this match should feature plentiful service breaks.  Since their 2009 US Open clash, moreover, the Dane has elevated her own delivery into a more imposing weapon instead of simply a point-starting shot.  Her backhand has evolved into the equal of her opponent’s renowned two-hander, and she has forced herself against her instincts to strike some forehands with less spin and more conviction.   If she can generate aggression from that wing as well as from her backhand, she can mentally outlast Clijsters in a war of attrition.


Previews will proliferate on the blog next week (Bali, Fed Cup final, Paris Indoors), but first we rewind the most memorable moments of the 2008 Olympic gold medalist.