Clijsters Now Needs To Win Other Majors

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – If she was a football team, she would be the 49ers of the 1980s and in basketball, she would be the Celtics of the 1960s.

If she was a baseball team, she would be the Yankees of the 1950s.

But Kim Clijsters is a tennis player, and a good one, especially on the hard courts in Flushing Meadows, the surface she loves the most. And after tonight, she became a dynasty with her third US Open with a dismantling of Vera Zvonareva, 6-2 6-1, in the shortest Women’s Final since they started keeping time back in 1980 and the most lopsided final since 1976, when Chris Everett took out Evonne Goolagong, 6-3 6-0 in Forest Hills.

The match was so lopsided that the capacity crowd was trying to egg on Zvonareva just to get their money’s worth.

But the world’s favorite working mom would have none of that as she wanted to get revenge of her Quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon by Zvonareva keeping her shutout of the other three majors.

“I knew getting into the match which things were that I didn’t do well in the matches I lost,” Clijsters said. “Obviously the one at Wimbledon was, to me one of the most disappointing losses that I’ve dealt with so far in my career.”

The reason why Clijsters was so disappointed back in July was that Wimbledon was her chance to make everyone believe she was more than just a hard court specialist. Winning the US Open every year is nice and the $2.2 million payday she received will pay for young Jada’s college tuition, but to be considered one of the greats, she needs to claim the crown elsewhere, be it in Melbourne, Paris, or London.

“I mean, they all motivate you in a different way, obviously,” she said.  “Tactic‑wise you always have to adjust a little bit to each and every single one of them.

“But I think the one where I’ve felt I can do better than I have is obviously at the Australian Open.  Similar surface.  They’ve gone away from I think the Rebound Ace in the last couple years.  So I’ve always enjoyed playing there.  That’s obviously a Grand Slam I want to do well.  I want to do well in all of them, of course.

“But, um, again, you have the two European Grand Slams, which, you know, obviously Wimbledon is the one where, you know, I’m close to because I have the connection with my dad there because he enjoyed it there.  I always want to do well there, as well.

“The French Open, yeah, feels like playing in Belgium because we have so many Belgian people supporting us.  We have the history of a lot of past Belgians who have won there.  They all have a different impact on the way you feel and a positive impact, and I think that’s something I want to use when I go back there next year.”

It’s funny, though, Clijsters also has a connection with each of the Grand Slams. Australia adopted her calling the Belgian “Aussie Kim” because of her engagement to Lleyton Hewitt. Wimbledon and Roland Garros love her because she is a Belgian and almost an adoptive daughter.

And she is loved here in New York, because she is a part time New Jersey resident, as her husband Brian Lynch hails from the Garden State.

Yet, she’s only found championships by the Unisphere, because the hard courts excel her skills raising her record to 21-0 in her last three Opens.

“The surface has always been one of my favorite surfaces to play on,” Clijsters said. “I also like the blue courts, which, you know, make it a lot easier for me to see on.

“But I’ve always ‑‑ not just here in New York, but I’ve always had a very good run on the American hard courts, even when I was younger, you know, the whole US Open Series, Stanford, San Diego, LA, those kind of tournaments.

“I’ve always had a pretty good record going there.  I have a natural instinct of just adapting really well to, you know, the hard courts, which doesn’t come that easily for me when I go on different surfaces.”

Now, though, the 27 year-old needs to raise her game if she wants to be considered one of the greats. In the next year, Clijsters needs to she can win one of the other three Grand Slams. She said she wants to play through the Olympics in 2012, but after that it’s up in the air. Jada will be going to school and her priorities will change.

The clock is ticking and as with all dynasties they will come to an end someday.

Clijsters Becomes An Open Dynasty With Her Third Title

Daughter Jada sat in the stands playfully pulling designer watches up her right wrist as if they were toy bracelets. On the court below, Jada’s famous mother, sporting the same blond haystack hairstyle, turned the title match into child’s play in issuing a tennis time-out to Vera Zvonareva. Playing with the speed of a dutiful mom determined to get her daughter home for bed time, Kim Clijsters crushed Zvonareva, 6-2, 6-1 to capture her third US Open championship.

It was the most lopsided women’s final since Chris Evert dismantled Evonne Goolagong, 6-3, 6-0, in the 1976 final and the shortest women’s final since the USTA has timed title matches (in some pre-Open Era years players did not sit down on changeovers, resulting in finals that lasted less than an hour).

“A little bit of experience definitely helps,” said Clijsters, who collected the $1.7 champion’s check plus a $500,000 bonus for finishing second in the US Open Series to Caroline Wozniacki, the woman she defeated in the 2009 final. “Last year was a lot more confusing not having played for so long. So it was kind of different emotions starting to the tournament. I was able to play, especially in my last two matches, at my highest level. Obviously you want to do well at the places you’ve done well before. I know if I played well and if I’m healthy I can beat any of the top players.”

The second-seeded Belgian stretched her US Open winning streak to 21 matches, successfully defending her Flushing Meadows championship in dispensing her most comprehensive conquest of the tournament.

Give Clijsters 60 minutes (the official match time was 59 minutes) and she’ll give you a major title. Clijsters completely overpowered and overwhelmed Zvonareva, who was helpless to slow a woman playing at the peak of her powers, and sobbed into her towel after the match. Zvonareva’s eyes still glistened with tears as she spoke to the crowd following her second straight Grand Slam final loss.

“(I’m doing) a little bit better right now than 10 minutes ago when I was losing everything,” Zvonareva said in bringing some levity to a humbling defeat. “Kim just played tremendously well today and she deserved to win. Even though I’m disappointed at the moment, I still love New York.”

Zvonareva beat Clijsters in their last two meetings, scoring a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and registering a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the Montreal quarterfinals last month. The Wimbledon loss was particularly painful because it came after Clijsters defeated arch rival Justine Henin and appeared to be on course for a climactic clash with Serena Williams.

“I knew getting into the match which things were that I didn’t do well in the matches I lost,” Clijsters said. “Obviously the one at Wimbledon was, to me one of the most disappointing losses that I’ve dealt with so far in my career.”

Clijsters tried to overpower Zvonareva in those losses, this time she varied the height, speed and spin on her shots and applied relentless pressure with her fast feet and sliding, skidding splits.

“She’s the type of player who is consistent and likes the pace and likes to take over the pace from opponents,” Clijsters said. “I think today I was able to just mix it up well and just stay calm during the rally as well. Just put enough pressure and variety in there to throw up some high balls here and there. I think that just got her thinking even more just besides the fact that she was probably thinking about the occasion where she was playing and being in another final, which is always something that does have an effect on the way you feel, obviously.”

Still, the seventh-seeded Russian got off to a solid start and played Clijsters on even terms through the first four games in forging a 2-all tie. Then the blowout began.

Clijsters found the sweet spot on her Babolat and began to blister the ball with such confidence the shots flowed like all the right answers on a standardized tests. Zvonareva plays a similar style to Clijsters, but the former World No. 1 is bigger, stronger, more athletic and does everything a bit better.

Clijsters held for 3-2 to ignite an imposing run that saw her reel off seven straight games and effectively put the match out of reach.

“Physically today she was just much better than me,” Zvonareva said. “Physically, i was not capable of playing the same level as I was able to play yesterday….I tried my best out there. I gave 100%. I was not able to hang in there physically. Hopefully, I will have another chance.”

Characteristically classy, Clijsters took time out to console Zvonareva before raising the shiny silver US Open title trophy. Clijsters, who dropped her first four major finals, is the only woman in Open Era history to lose her first four Grand Slam finals before winning one. She put that experience to good use in offering encouraging words to Zvonareva immediately after the match.

“I think she’s a great person and she really knows how to be in those situations,” Zvonareva said. “When she gives such support, it’s great from her. She’s a great champion, but also a great person. Maybe because she said that maybe I’m not so disappointed right now.”

It was such a thorough thrashing coming in the aftermath of the Novak Djokovic’s dramatic five-set semifinal victory over five-time US Open champion Roger Federer, Clijsters sounded slightly chagrined by the result that sent the masses, who had waited anxiously for the men’s semifinal to end, streaming for the masses.

The 27-year-old Clijsters is the first woman since Venus Williams in 2001 to successfully defend the US Open championship and is the first woman to win three US Open titles in three consecutive appearances since Hall of Famer Chris Evert, who was in  Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight, won four straight US Open crowns from 1975 to 78.

Clijsters, husband Brian Lynch, a former Villanova basketball star, and their daughter Jada call New Jersey home for several weeks each summer. The Belgian-born Jersey girl has dominated the largest Grand Slam stage in the world as if it’s her own Garden State backyard.

When Clijsters beat Mary Pierce in the 2005 US Open final,  to claim her first career Grand Slam title, she capped a commanding hard-court season in which she posted a 36-1 record on North American hard courts.

Returning to New York as a wild card last summer, she beat both Venus Williams and Serena Williams en route to the final before sweeping Caroline Wozniacki to capture the 2009 Open crown.

In the aftermath of that match, daughter Jada captured the hearts of fans playfully tugging at her mother’s leg and pulling off the top of the silver title trophy as if it were part of her toy collection. Mother and daughter embraced again tonight and in the post-match interview Clijsters, who has already walked away from the game once and is well aware of how small the window of opportunity can be for champions, spoke about her desire to collect another major.

Widely respected for both her grace and game, Clijsters has become an adopted citizen of all four Grand Slam host cities. Formerly engaged to Lleyton Hewitt, she is revered as an honorary Aussie in Melbourne where some fans still call her “Aussie Kim”. She reached her first Grand Slam final at the 2001 French Open, falling to Jennifer Capriati, 12-10, in the third set and with Belgium bordering France she remains a popular presence in Paris. Clijsters is so well respected at Wimbledon, the only major where she’s yet to reach a final, the All England Club invited her to join Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Tim Henman to play the roof raising exhibition event in May of 2009.

“They all motivate you in a different way, obviously,” Clijsters said. “Tactic-wise you always have to adjust a little bit to each and every single one of them. But I think the one where I’ve felt I can do better than I have is obviously the Australian Open. Similar surface. They’ve gone away from the Rebound Ace in the last couple of years. So I’ve always enjoyed playing there. That’s obviously a Grand Slam I want to do well. I want to do well in all of them, of course.”

Daughter Jada is two-and-half years old now and Clijsters says she wants to have more children in the coming years so the watch on her daughter’s wrist is a reminder the career clock is ticking down.

“I would like to keep it going until the (2012) Olympics,” Clijsters said. “But then again, you never know what can happen. My main goal is to try and just stay injury free. if I can do that and if I can practice hard and work hard obviously the Grand Slams will always  be my focus. So now that I’m playing well obviously I’m not going to just give it up. I just want to keep it up.”

Clijsters made quick work of Zvonareva tonight and plans to make the most of her time in achieving her aim of taking these successful New York Nights on the road and winning another Grand Slam title.

“I will try everything that I can to be in the best shape possible to try to achieve what I achieved here,” said Clijsters, who then worked her way toward the door to take care of another important obligation: putting Jada to bed.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Honor Thy Mother

There she was winning on the big stage once again. Sometimes, Mom really does know best.

That proved true in Kim Clijsters’ amazing comeback story as she ran all the way to her second U.S. Open title with cute 18-month old daughter Jada looking on before a great Ashe Stadium environment in Flushing.

In just her third tournament back after taking two and a half years off to marry former Villanova hoops star Brian Lynch and start a family, the delightful 26 year-old Belgian’s experience proved too much for first-time slam finalist Caroline Wozniacki- besting the sweet ninth seed from Denmark 7-5, 6-3 in a match which took over an hour and a half.

“It was not really our plan,” an exhilerated Clijsters said after becoming the first Mom to win a grand slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley back in 1980 (Wimbledon). “I just wanted to start these three tournaments and get back into the rhythm of playing tennis and get used to the surroundings again.”

“You know, little nervous today and probably didn’t play as well as I did against Serena [Williams], but I still won. That’s all that counts for me now.”

Though it was the 19 year-old Dane’s first time playing for a major, she acquitted herself well proving that her run was no fluke. Following a shaky beginning in which she fell behind an early break 0-2, Wozniacki played some serious defense to reel off four consecutive games against a nervous Clijsters who began spraying shots.

“No, actually I wasn’t too nervous. I mean, you’re always excited when you’re going out to a match. But, you know, I just thought, I’m playing a Grand Slam final. I have nothing to lose. I just need to go out there and try to do my best, and that’s what I did,” Wozniacki said after becoming the first ever Dane to ever make it this far in a slam.

During that run, the New York crowd got to see some excellent rallies between the two in which Wozniacki mixed up her shots well including a solid two handed backhand and topspin forehand to gain an edge. After breaking back to get on the board, she settled down playing the conservative hustling style that had suited her well during the two weeks that included a straight set quarter ouster of American Melanie Oudin.

While Wozniacki’s ground attack was working, Clijsters’ went off going for too much which put the 2005 Open champ in a hole. Her opponent also showed strong will fighting off three break points by drawing errors before holding in the sixth game for 4-2.

The set nearly slipped away from the fan favorite who gave Wozniacki two more break opportunities in the next game. But that’s when her true mettle showed saving both including one with an inside out forehand crosscourt winner before gaining a critical hold for 3-4.

“She [Wozniacki] hits the ball very heavy, but she doesn’t miss. Against the Williams sisters, you always have the feeling that if you can just hang in there, they might give you more easy points,” assessed Clijsters on the style adjustment..

“She didn’t do that today. I think I really had to be patient, as well, but also try not to play along with her game. So I didn’t have that feeling until, you know, when I had match point. I was like, Okay, maybe I can do this.”

With momentum, Clijsters broke back in the eighth game to draw even. Following a nifty backhand defensive lob by a grinning Wozniacki to win a highly entertaining point for 15-30, a focused Kim locked in earning the break when her younger opponent double faulted.

However, she couldn’t keep it going blowing a 40-Love lead as a determined Wozniacki used some sheer hustle to get back in a point before a couple of nice half volleys forced a Clijsters’ miss for her third break of the opening set.

“But actually I was surprised myself that I wasn’t more nervous,” mentioned Wozniacki who still took plenty of positives from the tough defeat.

“And I just think that the thing that I was just thinking about one point at a time, one ball at a time, and I was really focused on what I really wanted to do out there. I think that really helped me. I think that helped me through the whole tournament.”

A game away from closing out the set, Wozniacki ran into trouble getting broken back by an equally focused Clijsters who began the game with a great backhand crosscourt. Wozy rebounded to grab the next pair moving two points from the set after a backhand winner. But Kim didn’t give in taking the next three including a return forehand winner to setup the break chance which she converted on a wide Wozniacki forehand making it five all.

Finally looking settled, she took the first three points. But again, Wozniacki came back getting it to Deuce before some big serving which included one of Clijsters’ three aces allowed her to escape for 6-5 swinging the momentum.

Finally more under control, she applied pressure to the teenager by continuing to dictate points with more pace forcing errors off Wozniacki’s racket to break at love, claiming the set.

“She’s playing because she thinks it’s fun and because she likes it,” said Wozniacki, who faced someone she admired for the first time. “I really think she might be a better player now than she was before.”

Perhaps the situation got to the Great Dane with Clijsters’ experience pushing her through a seesaw set that had seven combined breaks of serve. Not surprisingly, Kim had double the winners (16-8) and five more unforced errors (20-15) but most importantly, pulled the tight set out.

“Actually, I didn’t think too much about the score. I was just focused a lot about just playing one point at a time,” explained Wozniacki.

“But, you know, the thing was I couldn’t keep my serve in the end of the first set, and that just caused me trouble. She was right there. She started serving well, and, yeah, that’s why I lost the first set.”

During her run to the final, Wozniacki had only dropped one set with it coming against former Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in a come from behind three set Round of 16 win.

Could she mount a comeback? There certainly was no quit from her side as she continued to stick to the strategy of staying in rallies by making Clijsters hit another ball. The contrasting styles made for more intriguing points with the New Haven champ not afraid to come to net where she fared well taking 11 of 17 (65 percent) while Kim countered with a solid 10 of 15 (67 percent).

Indeed, the Ashe crowd enjoyed the variety as opposed to what the women’s game has become lately. With big girls swinging for the fences point after point without any alternative plan.

“I think Wozniacki is a great player. I think she’s someone who is going to have a really great future ahead of her. She’s a smart girl. I think she played some smart tennis today. That’s something I think we want to see. It’s not just the hard hitters,” praised Clijsters while adding:

“She’s really someone who thinks out there, and that is fun to see, as well.”

No wonder most games were so competitive. Despite that, each player did a better job protecting their serve with no breaks the first five games following another Clijsters ace for 3-2.

That’s when she sensed the finish line using powerful strokes and splendid angles to break Wozniacki at love highlighted by a forehand pass for Love-30 beating Caroline at the net along with a nice rally which finally drew an error for 4-2.

If she was going to make history becoming the first ever women’s wildcard to win the Open (Venus Williams made ‘97 Final-lost to Martina Hingis), it was gonna be tough.

Wozniacki didn’t go away getting a couple of tight long backhands from Clijsters to pull within two points of getting back on serve. But Kim wouldn’t allow it taking the next four including an ace and forehand winner for 5-2. Suddenly, she was a game away.

With the fans encouraging Wozniacki because they wanted more tennis, she held her nerve to hold for 3-5 putting it on Clijsters’ racket.

“You know, Kim just played a great match. She really showed that she’s playing great tennis, and I’m happy to have her back. But of course I’d like to have taken the next step and have won this match. I mean, she played better to me today, and that’s why she won,” credited the runner-up.

Here she was needing four more points to complete one of the greatest storylines ever. It wasn’t long ago that she retired because the game wasn’t fun anymore and she wanted to start a family. And now, here she was having already knocked off both Williams sisters along with Marion Bartoli back in the second round to reach this point.

“Well, the motivation was missing then. It was something that, yeah, I came to an age where I really felt like, you know, combined with the injuries, I think, I wasn’t really 100% focused on my tennis anymore.”

“But I’m just very lucky that I’m able to combine both and that my family supports me in doing this.”

With that family behind her including Jada who made the funniest gestures all night, Clijsters seized the moment. Following two shaky points giving Wozniacki hope, she recovered well with a service winner pulling her even and then struck a forehand winner to setup championship point.

Of course, Wozniacki wouldn’t give it to her getting into one more fun rally before an aggressive Clijsters nailed a forehand which drew a short reply giving her an easy putaway into the open court for the win.

“I’m still, whenever I see my group, every time I say, like, I can’t believe this happened. Because it still seems so surreal that, yeah, in my third tournament back won my second Grand Slam,” the emotional winner pointed out.

“It’s a great feeling to have, but it’s confusing in a lot of ways, as well. It went so quickly, everything, so I didn’t really- especially after yesterday’s match. And then with the rain delays and everything, it just felt like especially these last couple of days everything went so quickly.”

The emotional champion dropped to her knees and then received a nice hug from Wozniacki before turning emotional with tears of joy as Jada held up 1 finger for Mom and her box cheered on. She then made it up there to celebrate with them embracing everyone and receiving a kiss from her proud husband.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world being a mother,” the two-time Open champ said while reminding fans that she finally got to defend her 2005 title to chuckles. “I just can’t wait to spend next the few weeks with her and have her routine schedule at home again.”

A special moment for a wonderful player who handles herself so well. This was the kind of champion the Open deserved and the crowd let her know it just by their reaction.

If one great Belgian can do it this way after playing only two tournaments, might we get the other one back in Justine Henin? For another day.

Wozniacki also got plenty of love from the crowd who enjoyed Sunshine’s easy demeanor and smile which was still there when she received the runner-up crown even speaking three languages including her native Danish and Polish thanking all her supporters. Why not? This was a major breakthrough for the WTA Tour wins leader who entered with 62. It just wasn’t her time which should come soon enough.

“I think it’s important to thank all my fans in Poland, as well, because I know that there are a lot of fans out there that are rooting for me. I think it’s important just to give something back,” she wisely noted.

This was Kim’s moment. Her tournament writing a perfect script which you only get in movies.

“Well, I mean, if I inspired them, great. But, you know, this is something that I, yeah, in my wildest dreams could never imagine happening.”

Twenty nine years later, Mom won and she got to celebrate with family including Jada who came onto the court taking cute pictures with Brian and Kim along with the trophy.

“That’s why it’s good all the photographers were there. Maybe I can get some pictures.”

Somehow, we don’t think that will be a problem. A night she’ll never forget.

Kim’s Cooler Head Prevails

The circumstances were far from ideal. The rain hadn’t stopped all day throwing another curve into the schedule which forced both women’s semifinals to be played at the same time in Ashe and Louis Armstrong while both doubles matches were pushed back.

Perhaps that’s why Kim Clijsters is in her second straight U.S. Open final trying to become the first Mom to win a grand slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley back in 1980 (Wimbledon).

Oh. Did we also mention that when the Mom of 18-month old Jade plays ninth seeded Caroline Wozniacki for all the marbles later tonight in primetime at 9 PM on ESPN2, the unseeded Belgian was absent from the last three? Indeed, the 26 year-old former 2005 champ missed a chance to defend her crown due to injury and wasn’t even on the WTA Tour the past two years until 10 weeks ago. Since then, she’s gone 11-2 and will aim to become the first ever ladies wildcard to win a major.

“Maybe a little out of today’s match just because, you know, you want to finish that last point, kind of, especially when you hit like I was seeing the ball really well, I was hitting well, and I was really focused,” a pleased Clijsters said on whether her return has inspired people.

“It’s a little bit unfortunate that I didn’t have that, but it’s not going to take anything away from tomorrow’s match or how special that would be for me, and for both of us.”

Now, her incredible comeback continues by doing something few have. Not beating one Williams but both even if it was under bizarre circumstances with Serena Williams losing her cool late on a controversial call in a very tight second set.

Yes, the overwhelming favorite didn’t keep it together after a line judge nailed her for a foot fault handing Clijsters double match point. CBS replays were inconclusive with the call coming at a pivotal moment. As she was about to step up and serve, Williams made the costly mistake of walking over to have a few choice words for the poor judge. Unfortunately, the 27 year-old American let out several expletives which resulted in a very awkward and devastating conclusion to a quality match.

“I”m not going to sit here and make an excuse. If I foot fault, I did. It was what it was, and that’s basically all it was,” lamented Williams.

Following a meeting between the chair umpire and lines person, she reported what was said. With Serena anxiously waiting at the baseline and Clijsters wondering what was happening, eventually the 11-time slam winner was called up by the umpire forcing tournament referee Brian Earley to pay a visit along with tournament official Donna Kelso.

“She was called for a foot fault, and a point later, she said something to a line umpire, and it was reported to the chair, and that resulted in a point penalty,” a very subdued Earley explained. “And it just happened that point penalty was match point. It was a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Due to Williams breaking her racket following losing the first set which she received a warning for, the temper tantrum cost her any chance to repeat, resulting in a point penalty which meant the match. When Serena walked across the net to congratulate Clijsters, the stunned Belgian almost didn’t want to accept the 6-4, 7-5 semi victory which she quite deserved before a stunned, loyal half capacity crowd.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s unfortunate that a match that I was playing so well at to end that way,” a surprised Clijsters remarked after improving to 2-8 career versus Serena.

“You know, obviously, yeah, I still to this point I’m a little confused about what happened out there, and, um, just because I was so focused. You know, just trying to win that last point for me. So then things ended up ending a little bit different than I expected.”

“Well, I said something that I guess they gave me a point penalty. Unfortunately it was on match point,” was how Williams put it while adding:

No, I didn’t think I would get a point penalty. I didn’t think about it.”

Sometimes in sports, things happen. Chalk it up to emotions getting the better turning the champ into chump. Yes. The cooler player prevailed. With few giving her a chance after already sending Venus Williams home two rounds prior, Clijsters was superior.

Following a lengthy eight and a half hour delay, it was Kim who dealt with the elements better to pull off another upset knocking out the three-time Open winner.

It took a while for both players to get going due to a few sprinkles which fell and seemed to unnerve Serena more than Clijsters. The difference was that Clijsters hit the cleaner ball while an unsteady Williams misfired from the baseline. Able to deal with the pace, the speedy popular former champ was able to run down shots and come up with precision hitting creating nice angles.

They exchanged breaks in the sixth and seventh games but ultimately, Clijsters stayed strong holding for 5-4 to put pressure on Serena to stay in the set. A couple of points from squaring it, she fell apart dropping the next four to hand it over. After a Clijsters forehand winner made it 30-all, two Williams miscues including a netted backhand gave her gritty opponent a set lead to which she slammed her racket in disgust. Who knew that would play such a big role in a match of this magnitude?

When Williams seemed ready to make a run breaking Clijsters in the opening game of the second set highlighted by a couple of lethal return winners, she allowed Kim to stick around by dropping serve with a double fault.

All match, the WTA’s best server struggled mightily winning just 32 percent of second serves (10 of 31) due in large part to Clijsters’ aggressive play. That was the biggest difference making Williams’ serve attackable with Clijsters breaking her one more time than she’d been all tournament. Four when she had only allowed three entering last night.

Despite her serving issues, a sharper Williams pressed on earning a break in the fifth game when a nice dropshot setup a textbook crosscourt pass for 3-2. But yet again, a resilient Clijsters came right back. After Serena fought off three break points, she earned a fourth and converted thanks to a big forehand which drew an error to get back even.

Following Clijsters digging out of 15-30 to hold for 4-3, a big backhand gave her two more chances to break and serve for the match. However, as often happens with Williams, she toughened saving both winning a baseline exchange and a swinging volley winner. Still in trouble, she delivered an ace out wide to fight off a third. Entering the game, she had three aces but matched that total with clutch serving for four all.

Each then traded holds. A Clijsters ace out wide put her a game away from the final. Then came the embarrassing conclusion to a great set that had fans into it.

Already trailing in the critical game 15-30 due to a pair of errors, Williams faulted. Then came the foot fault from Hell.

“I used to have a real temper, and I’ve gotten a lot better,” an under control Williams said during a long postmatch press conference. “So I know you don’t believe me, but I used to be worse. Yes, yes, indeed.”

Not on this night.