Friendship on hold as Belgians clash at Wimbledon

Kim Clijsters is thrilled she and Justine Henin are back on message after years when there was scant prospect of them exchanging jokey texts.

Kim Clijsters is thrilled she and Justine Henin are back on message after years when there was scant prospect of them exchanging jokey texts.

But the Belgian pair will have to put their friendship on hold this afternoon when they clash in the fourth round at Wimbledon, a match-up which has been played out in three previous grand slam finals.

Both are back in top-level tennis after short spells in retirement, during which Clijsters became a mother and Henin explored the interests which tennis had kept her away from, while re-evaluating her priorities in life.

They both cited a desire to win Wimbledon as a key motivation to come out of exile, so there will be huge disappointment for whoever crashes out today.

Not that it should affect the warmth of their friendship which has not always been entirely harmonious, but has never been better than it is right now.

“I think we’ve definitely grown up,” said 27-year-old Clijsters.

“I think we’ve had great times together playing Fed Cup and just messaging each other on phones, teasing each other, fun. I think that’s how I would have liked it to have always been.”

The Fed Cup clash saw Belgium beat Estonia in April, and it was an occasion Henin also picked out as a key stage in their growing bonhomie.

“We had a fantastic time in the Fed Cup tie together,” Henin said.

“We have probably discovered each other not differently than in the past, but we are more adult now, and we have a lot of respect. So, of course on the court we both want to win, but the relationship is very good.”

Seven-time grand slam champion Henin has played down her chances of Wimbledon victory but the 28-year-old will surely change her mind if today’s Court One opener goes her way, while Clijsters has already won the US Open since returning to the tour last summer so knows she has what it takes to win a slam.

Serena Williams is certainly only at Wimbledon to win the title, having added last year’s championship to those she won in 2002 and 2003.

She was close to a hat-trick but in 2004 the 17-year-old Maria Sharapova caused a sensation by crushing her 6-1 6-4 in the final, for her maiden grand slam triumph.

Today Serena and Sharapova have their first grass-court meeting since that occasion, when they clash on Centre Court.

Sharapova attaches no significance to the result six years ago.

“There are always wonderful memories. But when you step out on the court, it’s new,” said the Russian. “You’ve got to start from scratch. The score is 0-0.”

Serena looked back to the 2004 final, saying: “I just remember I was really nervous. I think I put too much pressure on myself. It didn’t work out.”

Venus Williams is also in action on fourth-round day, in her case on Court Two against Jarmila Groth, the Slovakian-born player who married Australian player Sam Groth and gained Australian citizenship last year.

Third seed Caroline Wozniacki, the 19-year-old Dane, takes on Czech player Petra Kvitova, and former Wimbledon mixed doubles winner Jelena Jankovic faces Vera Zvonareva.

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