Clijsters Wins on Penalty Assessed on Williams

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Serena Williams, the defending United States Open champion, lost her semifinals match in the United States Open to Kim Clijsters in the most shocking and improbable manner Saturday night, stunning the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

When Williams picked up a second code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct, she had no points left to give.
When a lineswoman called Williams for a foot fault to set up match point for Clijsters, Williams argued spitefully and then berated the judge with profanity. She picked up a second code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct, but she had no points left to give.

Clijsters, the 26-year-old making a joyful return to tennis after a two-year retirement, had mostly outplayed Williams to that point, but she never got to play match point. Williams came over to Clijsters and shook her hand as Clijsters, a wild-card entry to start the tournament, advanced to the finals of the Open with a 6-4, 7-5 victory that will almost certainly prove as memorable as it was contentious.

It was the first time Clijsters had reached a Grand Slam final since she won her only Grand Slam tournament — the Open — in 2005. She will face Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3, in the other semifinal.

“I am still in shock,” Clijsters said after dispatching the defending champion.

Brian Earley, the tournament referee, explained that “she said something to a line umpire, it was reported to the chair and that resulted in a point penalty and it just happened that point penalty was match point,” he said.

As the line judge approached the chair umpire and reported what Williams said, Williams responded incredulously on court: “I didn’t say I would kill you, are you serious? I didn’t say that.”

This rescheduled semifinal was in the original time slot of the women’s final, a prime-time special created eight years ago, in part because of the draw of the Williams sisters. Until the fateful point that decided the match, the action was worthy of a final.

Clijsters, in a mere 35 minutes, had done what no other player had accomplished this tournament: she won a set off Serena Williams.

And with the first-set defeat, Williams threw her racket to the court in disgust. She picked it up and, still angry, slammed it to the court for effect. This time, she mangled the frame.

Her emotions seemed to be as unsettled as the weather as she sprayed 15 unforced errors in that first set.

Clijsters had gotten the early break in the sixth game as Williams, uncharacteristically, served two double faults. But the vintage Serena Williams flashed into existence on the next point, rocketing a crosscourt winner on Clijsters’s 104 m.p.h. serve.

On the second point of the game, as Williams let a defensive lob fall to the court, the stadium cheered in anticipation: she smashed it with so much it landed in the second row of seats.

From there, she broke back, but Williams still seemed a bit off.

At first, when droplets of rain floated from the sky, Williams seemed bothered by the slippery court conditions. She registered her complaints with the linesman on a changeover.

And after Clijsters first broke her, Williams looked over to her father and coach, Richard, and held out her arms as if to say, “What am I doing?”

As Williams tried to channel her anger, Clijsters appeared far more relaxed. About two hours earlier, she wore a contented smile on her face as she went to check the court conditions during the interminable rain delay.

“Can they make it stop raining?” she asked the security guards.

After being away from tennis for 27 months, what were another couple of hours? As Williams had predicted, Clijsters felt no pressure. This was, after all, a night out for Clijsters and her husband, Brian Lynch, the parents of a toddler.

On a soggy Saturday when talk of constructing a roof was all the rage, perhaps it was only appropriate that Clijsters was playing in the night’s semifinal. Were it not for a roof, she might not have returned to tennis.

But in January she was invited to play in an exhibition with Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Tim Henman to launch the new roof at Wimbledon. Clijsters figured she had to get back into shape so as not to embarrass herself.

And then she realized how much she missed the game, enjoying the training and the challenge once again.

“Seems like she’s even faster than what she was before,” Williams said. “I was thinking that maybe I should have a baby and then I’ll come back faster.”

Clijsters admitted that she was, indeed, fitter than before, perhaps liberated by not having the same pressure on her as Williams. She knocked off Venus Williams in the Round of 16, marching deep into the tournament, but into territory she had charted.

Over in Louis Armstrong Stadium, the two 19-year-olds could not say the same. Wozniacki may have been ranked No. 8 in the world, and had won three tournaments this season, but she had never reached a Grand Slam semifinal before. Wickmayer had never advanced past the second round of a Grand Slam tournament before this Open.

The pairing made the undercard, and the players took the court 10 minutes after the Clijsters-Williams semifinal began, before barely 300 fans.


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Clijsters Comes Through Again, Reaches Open Semis

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kim Clijsters has kept her comeback on track, moving into the semifinals of the U.S. Open with a two-set victory over China's Li Na.

Clijsters is unseeded and making her first appearance at the Open since she won it in 2005. She defeated her 18th-seeded opponent 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday.

The Belgian is returning to tennis after taking two years off, during which she had a baby girl. She entered Flushing Meadows unranked because she hadn't played enough matches in her comeback. She will rise to at least the low 50s on the strength of this run.

She added the Li victory to earlier wins over No. 3 Venus Williams and No. 14 Marion Bartoli. Clijsters will face No. 2 Serena Williams or No. 10 Flavia Pennetta in the semifinals.

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New mother Clijsters beats V.Williams at US Open

Sunday, September 6, 2009

NEW YORK — A half-hour after getting past Venus Williams in a three-set tussle at the U.S. Open, Kim Clijsters had her hands full again.

Juggling an energy drink, a bottle of water and a snack, Clijsters was trying to keep an eye on her 18-month-old daughter, Jada, as the tyke scurried around the players' lounge.

Better keep the nanny on call: Mommy's got more work to do at Flushing Meadows.

Playing by far her biggest match since coming back after 2 1/2 years away from tennis, Clijsters knocked off the No. 3-seeded Williams 6-0, 0-6, 6-4 Sunday in a match of wild momentum swings to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

"It's still kind of hard to believe. But then again, I'm not trying to get carried away with it all," the 26-year-old Belgian said. "Just trying to focus on what I have to do, because the tournament's still going. I just want to keep focusing on my tennis."

And some tennis it is. Against Williams, a seven-time major champion, Clijsters displayed the same sort of booming groundstrokes and all-over-the-place court coverage that helped her win the 2005 U.S. Open and briefly reach No. 1 in the rankings before leaving the tour.

Only two mothers have won a Grand Slam singles title; the last was Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980. Clijsters will be in the semifinals if she beats No. 18 Li Na of China.

"With the kind of training that she's put in, I knew this wasn't just for fun," said Clijsters' husband, Brian Lynch, an American who ended his professional basketball career in Belgium when she decided to unretire. "She was trying to make something happen here."

Consider that done, even if Williams appeared slightly hobbled at times by her heavily bandaged left knee, and her mother, Oracene Price, said afterward: "We all know she's just trying to go as far as she can. I don't know if she should have done that."

"I wasn't able to play 100 percent," Williams said.

Still, she went back out on court later Sunday, teaming with her younger sister Serena to win a third-round doubles match. The No. 2-seeded Serena is still defending her title in the singles tournament — hasn't dropped a set yet, even — after taking the last 10 games of a 6-2, 6-0 victory over No. 22 Daniela Hantuchova.

Serena Williams' bid for a 12th Grand Slam title will continue with a quarterfinal against No. 10 Flavia Pennetta of Italy, who saved six match points en route to eliminating No. 7 Vera Zvonareva 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0 at night.

Williams-Clijsters was the main attraction Sunday, and the biggest piece of news elsewhere came when Rafael Nadal sought treatment from a trainer for a stomach muscle problem.

The third-seeded Nadal, trying to complete a career Grand Slam with a U.S. Open title, refused to talk about his health after beating No. 32 Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.

"I don't want to talk about injuries," Nadal said. "Sorry. No, no. I am a little bit tired to talk about injuries."

His next opponent, No. 13 Gael Monfils, advanced when Jose Acasuso quit because of left knee pain while trailing 6-3, 6-4, 1-0.

No. 24 Juan Carlos Ferrero, the French Open champion and U.S. Open runner-up in 2003, moved on when his foe, No. 9 Gilles Simon, stopped playing because of a right knee injury, while winners included No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez.

Clijsters stepped away from the game in May 2007 after a series of injuries. She got married later that year, and gave birth to Jada in February 2008.

"I'm glad I made that choice," she said Sunday, "because a lot of beautiful things came out of it."

To hear Clijsters tell it, she never gave a shred of thought to ending her retirement until being asked to participate in exhibition matches under the new roof on Wimbledon's Centre Court in May. Eager to acquit herself well, she began working out and practicing — and the desire to compete for real came surging back.

Her first official match was Aug. 10 — a win over 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli — and because Clijsters only entered two tournaments before arriving in New York, she still isn't ranked by the WTA. She needed a wild-card invitation to be able to play in the U.S. Open, and now is the first such woman to make the quarterfinals.

"She's come back fresh, rejuvenated and just ready to play and eager to play," observed Price, "and seeing the value of it more so than she did when she left."

Clijsters credits her time away with improving her mental strength on the court, and it came in handy on a cloudy, windy afternoon.

Williams got off to an inauspicious start, putting in only 3 of 12 first serves in the opening game, in which she double-faulted twice and sprayed shots wildly. Clijsters took the first six games, Williams took the next seven, then Clijsters the next three.

"Very weird, right?" is how Clijsters described those ebbs and flows.

Indeed, there hadn't been a 6-0, 0-6 start to a women's match at the U.S. Open since 1975.

Clijsters' forehand went away in the second set, then returned with great effectiveness in the third. Consecutive winners off that wing helped her gain the only service break of the final set, one that put her up 2-1 when Williams double-faulted.

With the crowd pulling for the Belgian more than the American, Clijsters erased two break points while serving for the match, then ended it with a 101 mph service winner.

Yes, Mom's still got it.

"Tennis is a great sport, but I'm just happy that we have a family and I can balance both," Clijsters said in an on-court interview, drawing a roar from fans.

After noting that Jada isn't concerned with her wins or losses, Clijsters elicited more yells of support when asked about changes she noticed when returning to the sport.

"I only just started watching tennis at the start of this year, to be honest," she replied. "I didn't really have that much time with a baby running around, and I was happy just to sleep when she was sleeping."

What parent can't relate to that?


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