Kim Clijsters continued her stunning comeback in formidable style on day seven of the US Open. In her first appearance in New York since winning the title in 2005, the comeback mama progressed into the quarterfinals by knocking out world No. 3 (and crowd favourite) Venus Williams.
The much-anticipated fourth-round meeting between the two former champions certainly lived up to expectations. Although Clijsters entered the final Slam of the year as a wild card—having only played in two tournaments since picking up her professional racket after a two-year hiatus—she has been in blistering form since her first-round encounter.
Continuing where she had left off two days previously (when she disposed of fellow Belgian Kirsten Flipkens with an easy 6-0, 6-2 victory), Clijsters played a breathtaking first set of tennis. She completely dominated proceedings, moving Williams (whose left leg was still heavily strapped) all over the court.
Clijsters did not allow Williams a single game on the scoreboard and swept the first set, 6-0, in 27 minutes. The crowd looked on in stunned silence as Clijsters served up the first hot bagel of the afternoon. The commentators seemed just as speechless, remarking only that Clijsters was “in the zone.”
Williams took to the floor to open proceedings in the second set; the American finally managed to get her scoreboard moving, to the delight of the home crowd. She then decided it was time to give Clijsters a taste of her own medicine. You could almost hear her thoughts as she broke Clijsters' serve in the second game of the set: “No one bagels Venus and gets away with it!”
In a matter of seconds, the whole match had turned around. Williams was now the one “in the zone”; her serve was suddenly firing on all cylinders (averaging approximately 120 mph), her ground strokes were full of venom, whilst the errors were slowly starting to creep into Clijster’s game. Payback time had arrived!
The crowd was by now fully immersed in the match and cheered as Venus returned the favour, serving up the second hot bagel of the afternoon. It took the American four minutes less than Clijsters had to heat up her doughy "O."
As set three began, there was no clear indication who would win this roller-coaster ride of a match. Would there be more bagels? Would there be a bread stick? Or would the two ladies decide to share?
Williams started off the final set by holding on to her serve and winning her seventh game in a row. The pressure quickly shifted back to Clijsters, who managed to cling to her serve, thus ensuring that no more bagels would be handed out that afternoon.
In the third game of the deciding set, Clijsters took her opportunity to strike. She used some fancy footwork and a scorching forehand to take the score to 30-all and, moments later, had her first break-point of the set. Williams then gifted her opponent the break by double-faulting, allowing Clijsters to take a 2-1 lead.
Thereafter, both women managed to win their service games. As Clijsters stepped up to the line to serve out the match, she had the obligatory “serving-it-out tennis wobble,” allowing Williams two break-point opportunities. However, the Belgian displayed nerves of steel to take the game to deuce and didn’t waste any more time in seizing her opportunity. She won the next two points to claim the match 6-0, 0-6, 6-4.
A look of disbelief came over Clijster’s face as she shook the umpire’s hand and sat down to reflect upon what she had just achieved.
Afterwards, she told the crowd: “It was such a weird match, especially those first two sets. But after I lost the second at 6-0, I said, let's start over and start a new match.” And start again she most certainly did!
So as far as the women’s seeds go: another one bites the dust!
It will now be exciting to see how much further Clijsters can go in the draw. With no expectations weighing down upon her shoulders, this could be the dream comeback. Her next opponent is Na Li of China. Should Clijsters emerge victorious from that encounter, there is the mouth-watering prospect of another Clijsters-Williams match.
Watch this space...