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Clijsters moves on easily at US Open

EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – The picture is hanging in the lounge room back home in Australia – Sally Peers, her face painted the green-and-yellow colors of her home country, smiling while Kim Clijsters leans down with her hands on the young girl’s shoulders.

It was a thrill for Peers to meet her tennis hero back then, a dream come true to play her nine years later at the U.S. Open.

The second-seeded Clijsters beat Peers, the 19-year-old qualifier, 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday, but this was one of those nights where it was hard to tell the winner from the loser.

“To be honest, I didn’t want it to end,” Peers said. “I really enjoyed the experience. It was a real big thrill. I was playing Kim Clijsters, the defending U.S. Open champion. It’s not every day you get to play someone like that.”

If Peers’ career goes the way she hopes, she’ll be playing people like Clijsters more often. As she learned during her 56-minute lesson in Arthur Ashe Stadium, she’s got a ways to go to get to that level.

On this night, though, there was no shame in losing.

Clijsters, of course, is among the favorites, as she tries to become the first woman to repeat as U.S. Open champion since Venus Williams in 2001. So far at Flushing Meadows, she has barely been challenged – losing a total of eight games in two matches.

She figures that, given the circumstances, she didn’t get Peers at her best. Clijsters remembers making Wimbledon as a qualifier in 1999, then finding herself walking onto Court 1 to play Steffi Graf, whose poster hung in Clijsters’ room when the Belgian was a kid.

“I mean, there’s absolutely nothing I remember about that match, but I remember walking next to her, admiring her head to toe,” Clijsters said. “That’s what I remember but it had nothing to do with tennis or how I was feeling. I was just overwhelmed by nerves.”

Years from now, Peers will tell the same kind of story.

She got her picture taken with Clijsters during a Davis Cup match in Australia nine years ago, then the next year, stopped Clijsters at the Australian Open and asked her to sign it.

“To Sally, Love Kim,” it says, above an autograph from Clijsters, who was ranked in the teens at the time, well before she retired to start a family, then unretired to come back and win last year’s U.S. Open.

Like almost all Aussie sports stars, Peers is well-followed at home in Melbourne, where the match aired at 9 a.m.

“I thought I did OK,” she said. “I thought I returned really well. This whole week has been really, really fun.”

She’ll make $31,000 for her making it through qualifying and into the second round at the U.S. Open – enough for a little shopping spree on Fifth Avenue.

Some things, though, she knows money cannot buy.

“This is probably a dream come true,” Peers said. “When I was 10, if you’d told me I was going to play Kim Clijsters at Arthur Ashe Stadium, I’d have not believed you. To do that, it’s really, like, ‘Wow.”‘