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Tennis: Clijsters battles past gritty Tamarine

MELBOURNE – Clijsters went into the match as the overwhelming favourite against the 32-year-old Thai, but was made to work hard for every point on the Rod Laver Arena.

Tamarine has the distinction of being the most experienced Grand Slam campaigner at the Australian Open, competing this year in her 51st tournament, three more than nearest challenger Venus Williams.

She made her Grand Slam debut at the 1997 Australian Open and used all her experience to keep pace with Clijsters for most of the match.

However, the 26-year-old Belgian was able to convert the points that mattered in both sets to ease her way to a narrow win.

Nobody expected a close match when Clijsters broke Tamarine’s first service game and opened a 3-0 lead.

But the Thai refused to give in and she gradually worked her way back into the match, holding her next two service games then breaking Clijsters to get back to 3-4.

Clijsters struck right back, however, breaking Tamarine then holding her own serve to claim the first set in 40 minutes.

The Thai was playing with enormous confidence and she broke Clijsters early in the second set to jump to a 3-0 lead.

But she was unable to sustain the pressure and the reigning US Open champion fought back, breaking the Thai three times as she won the next six games straight to claim her third win over Tamarine, but her first since 2001.