For Kim Clijsters, her last two trips to the Stadium Court here have been weird winding journeys, ending in the same result. A loss.
The two matches--about a year apart--were strange but, in reality, nothing alike. Clijsters was on the other side of the net in the Indian Wells final last year, trying to keep her head as an angry crowd booed Serena Williams two days after Venus Williams pulled out of a highly anticipated semifinal match that would have featured the sisters.
On Friday, Clijsters didn't last much longer in the Pacific Life Open, departing after two sets, spraying the ball far and wide at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Nathalie Dechy of France, a former top-20 player, took advantage of Clijsters' erratic play, defeating the No. 1-seeded player, 6-2, 7-5, in the second round.
It was the first time since 1989 that a top-seeded woman lost in this event in her first match.
The 18-year-old Belgian, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 3 on Monday, had received a first-round bye, and it was her first match since the Australian Open semifinals, where a sore upper right arm affected her play as she lost to eventual champion Jennifer Capriati in three sets. It turned out Clijsters had a stress fracture.
The long layoff showed.
As if her recent problems weren't enough, Clijsters has been suffering from a sinus and ear infection, and she sounded hoarse when she voiced her disappointment after the match.
"I was really looking forward to coming out here," she said. "I've had such good results here in the past."
Clijsters said she has spent many hours in the gym, working on her arm and shoulder.
"It's still not 100%, it takes a few months," she said. Against Dechy, Clijsters continually misfired, hitting wide, long and in the net. She had 55 unforced errors to Dechy's 19 and double-faulted six times, looking a lot like a player in preseason form.
Even under ordinary circumstances, the talented Dechy would have been a tough opponent. In their only previous meeting, Clijsters beat Dechy three years ago in three sets on a hard-court surface.
Dechy has had some of her best results at Indian Wells, defeating Anna Kournikova here two years ago when Kournikova was a top-10 player. Last year, she defeated Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and reached the fourth round at Indian Wells.
After a slow start, Dechy has had impressive results in the last month, losing to Justine Henin of Belgium, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8), in the second round in Paris. At Scottsdale, Ariz., she beat Meghann Shaughnessy and reached the semifinals before losing to Capriati last week.
She was asked whether she could tell Clijsters was having difficulty.
"I didn't really think she was having problems on the court," Dechy said. "I knew that she was coming back from an injury, so it's not so easy to take a month off and be back straightaway at a tournament where you played so well last year. But on the court I didn't pay attention to anything, I just played the match."
Henin nearly joined Clijsters on the sideline, facing a difficult fight against 21-year-old left-hander Maja Matevzic of Slovenia. The third-seeded Henin, who is in the same half of the draw as Clijsters was, beat Matevzic, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
The other two featured matches on the stadium court went the distance: Eighth-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia defeated Amy Frazier, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, and Lisa Raymond beat Marissa Irvin of Santa Monica, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
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Stadium Court, starting at 10 a.m.
* Elena Bovina, Russia, vs. Jelena Dokic, Yugoslavia
* Martina Hingis, Switzerland, vs. Silvija Talaja, Croatia
* Katarina Srebotnik, Slovenia, vs. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Spain
* Martina Sucha, Slovakia, vs. Monica Seles
* Nicole Pratt, Australia, vs. Meghann Shaughnessy