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.

The Djoker Is Not Foiled by the Great Fish Caper

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Mardy Fish reshaped his body and resculpted his game but couldn’t revise his past history with Novak Djokovic. Fish’s inspired run through this US Open Series came to a halt at the hands of Djokovic, who fried Fish, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 to advance to his sixth straight major quarterfinal at the US Open.

Worn out from a long summer in which he won back-to-back championships in Newport and Atlanta, producing a career-best 11-match winning streak in the process, and went on to reach the Cincinnati final, a flat Fish lacked both the energy and execution to pose problems for Djokovic.

“I tried to, you know, get to the net, tried to stay more, you know, be a little more aggressive towards the middle part of the match,” Fish said. “I had some chances.  I just didn’t execute, generally.  He played great.  He kicked my butt.  He played great.”

It was a match that was never much in doubt as Djokovic, who took the court with a 5-0 lifetime record against Fish, asserted his authority at the outset.

The third-seeded Serbian swept American wild card James Blake, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3, and wisely took the pro-Fish American crowd completely out of the match in surging out to a 4-1 lead.

Djokovic’s superior speed around the court and his ability to extend Fish in baseline exchanges were key components to the win. The 2007 US Open runner-up remains one of the best hard-court returners in the game and picked Fish apart in longer rallies.

“I was making him play an extra shot and I was using the court very well,” Djokovic said. “This (win) gives me a lot of confidence, definitely. It’s great to raise the level of my performance toward the end of the tournament. It’s been a great couple of years for me in New York so hopefully I can go on.”

Seeking his fourth consecutive trip to the US Open semifinals, Djokovic is a decided favorite against quarterfinal opponent Gael Monfils.

In an all-French fourth round meeting, the 17th-seeded Monfils broke Richard Gasquet mentally in scoring an entertaining 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. Monfils saved a set point in the second set and roared back from a 3-5 deficit in the third set to send the fragile fellow Frenchman packing and become the first French quarterfinalist since Arnaud Clement in 2000.

“I tried to be very tough and hard with him, showing him that I’m the man and I’m the leader,” Monfils said of Gasquet. “So I think I try also to get him a bit in the head, to show him like I will be strong and he might hit a good shot, but it’s okay. For me it’s nothing. I will try to reach every ball and show him…if he come in I will be everywhere.”

The Djokovic-Monfils match pits two of the fastest, most charismatic, flamboyant and sometimes flakiest players in men’s tennis. They are two men who play as if empowered by the belief that no ball is beyond their reach which should create a highly entertaining match.

“Gael is very charismatic and very athletic,” Djokovic said. “He slides a lot and so do I so I guess there’s going to he a lot of sliding between him and me.”

Djokovic is 4-0 lifetime vs. Monfils, including a controversial 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(5), 0-6, 7-5 triumph in the 2005 US Open first round in which some spectators believed Djokovic resorted to gamesmanship in pulling a lengthy injury time out to rest and recover.

Their most recent encounter saw Djokovic outduel Monfils and silence the Parisian crowd in an explosively entertaining, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(3), victory in the Paris Indoor final last November.

Master showman Monfils, who has entertained the New York City crowd with his electrifying shotmaking skills on the run, his expressiveness and even his impromptu post-match dance moves, is hoping he can work the crowd into a festive frenzy.

“I can get the crowd behind me,” Monfils said. “I know him perfectly. We had like always a tough match. And then, damn I had revenge to take it because he won against me at home in Bercy (Paris). So this time I hope to win.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Jankovic Makes A Huge Comeback To Advance

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY –  Jelena Jankovic sprinted back to the blue wall of Arthur Ashe Stadium in pursuit of a lob and clung to the shade as a welcome shelter from a searing sun. Jankovic had her back to the wall as US Open debutante Simon Halep served for the match, but the speedy Serbian showed her survival skills in bouncing back to break serve and score eight straight points to close out a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 triumph and reach the US Open second round.

“It was really hot and windy. My opponent played really well,” Jankovic said  “She was putting a lot of balls in the court.  She didn’t really make many mistakes, and I really had to work for every point. But I wasn’t playing my best tennis.  I was just trying to find my rhythm out there and trying to do my best to get through. I’m happy that I was able to get through this match.  It was a really tough one for me.”

It was a victory gained more on guile than game. Jankovic suffered a sprained left ankle in Portoroz earlier this summer and has staggered through the US Open Series. As the top seed in Montreal two weeks ago, Jankovic lost in straight sets to 75th-ranked qualifier Iveta Beneseova. It was her fourth loss in six matches and prompted Jankovic to admit the obvious: her game and confidence are sagging.

“I didn’t really feel like a top-five player out there,” said Jankovic. “My game hasn’t been at the top level for the last couple of tournaments.”

Since her run to the Roland Garros semifinals, Jankovic has registered a 6-6 record with four of her losses coming to players ranked outside the top 25, including a 7-6(3), 6-4 setback to 114th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova in Cincinnati.

The 2008 Open runner-up to Serena Williams looked slightly fresher than Halep in the latter stages. Seeking her first career Grand Slam main draw victory, Halep had the match on her racquet, but ran out of gas in the critical stages.

“Physically, I think she was more stronger than me,” Halep said. “She didn’t hit so hard, but she changed the rhythm of the points. I was very close and I am sad I didn’t win. I will try to do it next time.”

The fourth-seeded Jankovic resides in the softest quarter of the draw, but will need to pick up her play considerably if she is to reach the quarterfinals for the fourth time in her last five Flushing Meadows appearances.

Athletically, Jankovic remains one of the most gifted players in the game, but her habit of reverting to retrieving when the going gets tough likely won’t get the job done against the seeded power players in the draw.

“There are days when you’re not going to be feeling the ball, you’re not going to be moving your feet,” Jankovic said. “In those days, you just really have to fight and really have to try your best and give your maximum and try to get through these kind of matches. If you are able to do that, then it gives you a lot more confidence for the next round.”

The next round pits Jankovic against one of the most unlikely of all US Open comeback stories. Croatian qualifier Mirjana Lucic, who reached the 1999 Wimbledon final at age 17, defeated Alicia Molik, 7-6(5), 6-1, and will face Jankovic in the second round.

“I feel fantastic. I’m so so happy,” Lucic said. “I worked so hard to get here. It feels incredible.”

The 28-year-old Lucic who missed nearly four years of her pro career due to personal issues she would not revisit in today’s post-match press conference, posted her first US Open main-draw victory since 1999.

Though she essentially walked away from the sport to put her life back in order after experiencing problems with her father, Lucic said in her mind she never walked away from the game.

“Never. I was just waiting for my opportunities.  I never quit,” Lucic said.  “I’m 28 now.  People are calling me a veteran, which is like, Oh, so depressing.  I’m like old at 28. But, you know, I just love it out there. I’m doing what I love, and I know that there is still a lot of good tennis in me, a lot of good results.  That’s what’s pushing me, and that’s why I’m doing it.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.