The perfect fourth-round tennis script for the 2009 U.S. Open was written when the draws were announced, and it is finally time for the virtuosos to take on the stage and complete this much-anticipated act.
Beauty meets magnificence, poise meets composure, endurance meets subsistence as two equally matched former U.S. Open champions, Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters, resume the unfinished business they left four years ago.
The last time that these two superb champions had met was in 2005 at this very revered Flushing Meadows, where Clijsters had outlasted Venus in a thrilling three-set quarterfinal en route to her first and only Grand Slam win.
And that year was the last time the bubbly Belgian was seen at New York, as a wrist injury prevented her from title defense, and soon after she opted for a sabbatical to start a family.
Nearly 28 months later, the congenial player returns to the scene after giving birth to her first child, but her hunger and physical power still remain the same, making it difficult for the newer generation to fight toe-to-toe with her.
Five top-20 players have so far fallen to Clijsters since her return, and the fact that she is getting better and better with every match doesn’t augur well for anybody scheduled to face the spirited Belgian.
But the expert analyst, Rajat Jain, has a different opinion about this clash.
Will Win If
The key to playing someone as aggressive as Venus Williams is to remain equally aggressive and to absorb her aggression. To not give Venus the opportunity to rush to the net is something the 26-year-old Clijsters should be totally aware of, and her 2005 performance against Venus testifies for the fact that she knows her tactics well enough.
The serve is going to be a major factor in this duel. Even though her serve has remained the area that's weaker than the rest of her game, she totalled 12 aces in the Slam, giving evidence that she is improving.
Clijsters’s famous forehand generates enough power and spin and has been looking deadly as ever and her occasional rotation of the crosscourts with down-the-lines have continuously wrecked havoc on the opponents she had demolished so far. And since offense is the key, Clijsters would not hesitate to use her brilliant weapon here at will.
Her backhand lacks some sheen when compared with her forehand. Nevertheless, her flawless use of the slice which generates very low bounces, should definitely pose a huge threat for the towering 6’1’’ American veteran.
Again, outright offense invites a plethora of errors. So eliminating errors is totally out of the question, but against a player like Venus keeping the errors, especially the double-faults, to a minimum is a must. Otherwise the tactic could boomerang.
Always known for her fluid and brilliant movement and tremendous athleticism on the court, Clijsters had been consistently showing ample evidence of the player she once was. Being able to hit a shot from any part of the court, she has continued to flabbergast her opponents with her incredible angles and pin-point placement and this would come in handy against Venus who is an equally good mover.
Also exploiting Venus’s weak points should help her to a great extent. Venus is playing with an injury that is restricting her movement a lot. Clijsters should be capitalizing on this chance by moving Venus from side-to-side, which might pose to be a problem for the 29-year-old American in the case of long baseline rallies.
Venus’ serve too has shown fluctuations—from showing glimpses of brilliance, it has surprisingly reduced to a much mediocre one at times, and her last match against Magdalena Rybarikova saw her commit seven double-faults. So a player like Clijsters wouldn’t waste time in pouncing on those shaky flat second serves and thus keep Venus under pressure.
Will Lose If
That Venus Williams still holds the record for the fastest serve on the WTA at 130 mph is a factor intimidating enough for any opponent on the other side of the net.
If Venus gets the opportunity to pound aces and bring out her devastating serves, it should certainly be worrisome for any opponent, including Clijsters.
Venus’ most reliable shot is her two-handed backhand return, which she uses freely and effectively rotating it from crosscourt to down-the-line, which should be reason enough to trouble her foes.
If Clijsters can't keep Venus on the backfoot from early on and allows her awe-inspiring agility and her dominant wingspan of 1.85 meters around the net to get into action, it might not prove to be too good in the long run.
Also keeping in mind, if Clijster’s serves somehow start faltering, Venus Williams is one player not to give it a second thought and would straightaway smack it for a winning return.
All the above described factors in her game should be noticeable once Venus is "in the zone." But apart from these, the former World No. 1 still remains one of the most determined players ever seen on the Tour and will be vociferously cheered for and egged on by the home crowd. And the fact that her head-to-head record against the 2005 champion is 6-4 in her favour, bells of concern should definitely be ringing in Clijsters’ ears!
That Clijsters has come out of retirement even after a childbirth speaks volumes of the desire and confidence she still has in herself. That she could never come back to the place which gave her the biggest glory is also a reason why she decided to return at this particular Slam, where she has always enjoyed considerable success.
Clijsters is here with a mission, and her seemingly focused and determined mind is apparently not easy for anyone to penetrate. She completely knows what she is doing and knows it too well.
Shots To Look Out For
Clijsters' amazing movement is still something that astonishes everybody. And with her powerful crosscourt forehands and her occasional smart backhand slices, her game still remains a treat for any tennis aficionado. Also watch out for those admirable splits, even though they have become rare these days.
Kim Clijsters wins in three tight sets.
As I had mentioned earlier, it will be one heck of a face-off between two virtuosos, both trying to weave magic on the court in their very own way. And with the boisterous crowd inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium adding to the drama, an unforgettable experience is absolutely guaranteed.