Kim Clijsters won her third US Open title.
By Erin Bruehl
Kim Clijsters was born and raised in Belgium but for some reason she has just always played well in the United States, dating back to when she was a teenager.
She has had a tremendous amount of success on hardcourts throughout her career, and New York first held a most special spot in her heart when she won her first career Grand Slam tournament title at the 2005 US Open.
Now married to an American Brian Lynch and living part-time in New Jersey (and Belgium), Clijsters, now 27, has only felt more and more at home playing in the U.S. and New York in particular.
At the US Open last year, the New York magic returned as Clijsters pulled off a memorable run to the 2009 US Open title in just her third tournament back after a more than two-year retirement that included marrying Lynch and having her first child, Jada. It was her first US Open since winning the 2005 crown after missing the 2006 Open with a wrist injury and then retiring.
And after an up-and-down season that included winning two titles but also suffering a foot injury and missing Roland Garros, Clijsters found that extra support and magic in New York once again this year, as she played nearly flawlessly to crush Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 to win her third US Open title.
With the victory, Clijsters has now won 21 straight matches at the US Open (dating back to 2005), which is the second-most in the Open Era behind Chris Evert and fourth most all-time. She also became the first woman since Venus Williams in 2000 and 2001 to successfully defend her US Open title. The 2010 US Open crown gives Clijsters, the former world No. 1, 39 titles in her career, 30 of which have come on hardcourts.
Clijsters now holds three Grand Slam tournament titles - all at the US Open - with the 2005 title her breakthrough victory after finishing as the runner-up in four previous majors.
There is just something about Arthur Ashe Stadium and New York that has always given Clijsters that extra gear and she came out firing against Zvonareva in the final. She served well - hitting 77 percent of her first serves. She also moved well, played great defense and was sharp with her shots to dictate most of the points.
"New York is an amazing place for me," Clijsters said. "It has brought nothing but happiness to my tennis life. Whenever I step on this court (Ashe), it feels like coming home. It is the support (from the fans) that makes me play better.
"The surface has always been one of my favorite surfaces to play on. The blue courts make it a lot easier for me to see on. I have always had a good run on the American hardcourts even when I was younger," she added. "I have always had a pretty good record going there. I have a natural instinct of just adapting really well to the hardcourts, which does not come as easily for me when I go on different surfaces."
The celebration this year was more subdued than last year when her victory was most surprising and almost improbable with so little match play under her belt and not having played a Grand Slam tournament since the 2007 Australian Open. Clijsters fell to her knees after converting match point against Caroline Wozniacki and then year-and-half-old Jada pranced around the court and played with her mom's new toy - the US Open trophy.
After hitting a winner to close out the match against Zvonareva this year, Clijsters pumped her arms over her head in celebration with no tears flowing. The now two-and-half-year-old Jada joined her mom on court but wanted no part of holding the trophy this time until Clijsters picked her up. But winning this year was not any less special as she was extremely proud to be able to defend her title for the first time.
"Obviously when I started my U.S. summer, the US Open was my main goal. It was a new situation for me as well, going back to the Grand Slam where I was actually defending my title for the first time. Not having been able to do that in 2006 was frustrating at the time," Clijsters said. "It was probably a lot more busy this year around than it was last year in a different way. Last year it was a different kind of attention. People were still curious to see how I was playing, and obviously now, you know, people knew that obviously with my history here that I was maybe one of the contenders."
When Clijsters decided to return to tennis in early 2009 - and played her first tournament in August - she wanted to come back to play her best at the biggest tournaments and win majors. Now a mom to a young child and a wife, she was not going to play 20-25 tournaments a year but play a limited schedule to properly balance the new demands on her time and what was best for her family, especially with the around-the-world travel that tennis requires.
The year did start off shaky, as Clijsters suffered a shocking 6-0, 6-1 loss to Nadia Petrova in the third round of the Australian Open. In her next tournament, she lost in the second round of Indian Wells before bouncing back to defeat Venus and win the title at the prestigious Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.
A month later, she suffered a torn muscle in her foot while competing for Belgium in the Fed Cup playoffs that was not healed in time for her to play at Roland Garros. At Wimbledon - the only Grand Slam tournament where she has not reached the final - she lost in the quarters in three sets to Zvonareva.
During the Olympus US Open Series (where she has also been tremendously successful), she won the title in Cincinnati over Maria Sharapova. In her next tournament in Montreal, she lost in the quarterfinals again to Zvonareva in three sets.
Then she came to New York.
When the women's draw was revealed, it looked like a tough path for Clijsters to defend her title. In her quarter were No. 5 Samantha Stosur, two-time Grand Slam finalist Elena Dementieva and former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic amongst others. In her half lurked Venus as well as 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone.
Clijsters cruised through her first few matches before the match-up of former world No. 1s when she faced Ivanovic in the fourth round. Many people were expecting a close match as Ivanovic had been looking close to her old form, but Clijsters never made it a match, winning 6-2, 6-1.
Next up was Stosur, a finalist at the 2010 French Open. Clijsters was not at her best in the match and her serve especially was off but with the crowd behind her pulled out the 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 victory to set a semifinal meeting with Venus.
Venus came out firing on her first serves and took the opening set from Clijsters 6-4 but the Belgian roared back - and some Venus double faults helped - to win the second set in a tiebreak and then put herself back in the finals - that included a sensational lob late in the third - for a 6-4 victory in the final set in an extremely high-level match.
In the final against Zvonareva, no one would have guessed that Clijsters had lost to the Russian twice in the previous three months on fast surfaces. Clijsters brought her best tennis as Zvonareva never broke her and she only faced two break points - and none in the first set. She hit 17 winners to just six for Zvonareva.
"I wasn't playing my best tennis in the beginning but I was able to lift my game in the last two matches when I needed to," Clijsters said. "That is what I am most pleased about over these 14 days - that I was able to do that. It is always an honor to go back to a place you have done well and won a Grand Slam. Confidence wise, I knew if I brought my best, I am capable of beating a lot of the top players."
Zvonareva, who also reached the final of Wimbledon this year, credited Clijsters' outstanding play.
"With Kim, you have to be fast. You have to play fast. You have to move quick. I was just overall very slow," Zvonareva said. "I think Kim played a really good match and she did not give me chances to get into the match. She deserved to win."
And playing the final on the ninth anniversary of the tragedy of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Clijsters also acknowledged the turmoil New York City has gone through and hoped she had helped bring some enjoyment on a sad day to the people watching.
"Nine years ago, the world changed for everybody," Clijsters said. "It was an honor to play here today and maybe I gave you all a bit of a distraction."