MONTREAL (Reuters) - An injured Kim Clijsters hobbled to a 2-6 6-3 6-2 quarter-final loss to Vera Zvonareva at the Montreal Cup on Friday, casting doubt on the Belgian's ability to defend her U.S. Open crown.
As Clijsters was being questioned later about her fitness, world number two Caroline Wozniacki - the player the Belgian beat last year to win the U.S. Open - was sending a message of her own by blasting her way into the semi-finals with a 6-3 6-2 win over French Open champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy.
The Dane had extra reason to smile after learning that she will likely be seeded number one at the U.S. Open after Serena Williams announced she would sit out the year's final grand slam while recovering from foot surgery.
"It's something special to be the first seed at a grand slam," Wozniacki told reporters. "But it doesn't really matter for me if I am first seed or second seed.
"It's just a number when you're on the court. I just want to beat every single one of the girls that are in my way, that will be my goal."
Wozniacki will next face in-form Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, who booked her semi-final spot with a ruthless 6-1 6-3 win over China's Zheng Jie.
The first Russian woman to win the U.S. Open, Kuznetsova is also hitting her stride on the North American hardcourts, claiming her 13th career title in San Diego two weeks ago.
The other semi-final will pit Wimbledon finalist Zvonareva against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who moved on with a 6-2 7-6 win over Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli.
Zvonareva had looked headed for the exit rather than the semi-finals when Clijsters broke the eighth-seeded Russian at the first opportunity on her way easily taking the opening set.
But Clijsters hurt her hip in the second set and Zvonareva pounced, sweeping through nine straight games en route to her second victory over the Belgian in seven career matches.
Clijsters later played down the injury she described as tightness in her left hip, saying she will undergo an MRI next week to make sure it is nothing serious.
The Belgian made it clear she intends to be at Flushing Meadows to defend her title.
"Don't worry, there's no doubt in my mind (I will be at the U.S. Open)," Clijsters told reporters. "Maybe I will have to take precautions but a lot of girls these days play with tape to protect themselves.
"It doesn't mean you can't compete."
Despite being unable to chase down shots, the battling Belgian refused to retire and rallied from 5-0 down in the third before Zvonareva finished her off with a service break.
"I don't like to give up," said Clijsters, who also lost to Zvonareva in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
"I was still able to move, I was still able to hit the ball so I didn't want to quit.
"I'm not blaming my injury. I also lost to her (Zvonareva) at Wimbledon where I was feeling totally fine."
Editing by Steve Ginsburg