The U.S. Open women’s final was decided in 59 minutes in a no-frills match that, for the most part, lacked drama and competitiveness.
Nonetheless, it was a happy repeat for 2009 champion Kim Clijsters, who defeated Vera Zvonareva, 6-2, 6-1.
Despite the loss, it was a breakout year for the Russian Zvonareva, who reached two Grand Slam finals (also at Wimbledon), and moved up to No. 3 in the world rankings.
But Kim Clijsters owned this tournament and again won over New York with her dominant play, cool demeanor, and even her adorable daughter, Jada.
Here are some of the lessons we learned from Clijsters, Zvonareva, and the women’s draw at the 2010 US Open.
With Serena out, much ado was made that this was anyone’s Open on the women’s side.
But Kim knew it was her tournament from the beginning, and from Day 1 she sought out to reclaim ownership of Ashe.
Even the defending champion’s personalized player towels were a convenient reminder every match.
There might have been a glimmer of hope for much of the women’s field with Serena absent, but the players that made it to the final weekend were hardly shockers: Clijsters, Zvonareva, Venus Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki.
It was mildly surprising that Zvonareva upset the No. 1 seed Wozniacki, but even if that match ended differently, a Clijsters/Wozniacki final would just be a rematch of last year’s final, and I would take Clijsters again.
We all realized it was Kim’s tournament when she came back to beat Venus 4-6, 7-6 (2) 6-4 in the semifinal.
We might have been thinking about the open field, but Clijsters’ defeat of Venus was a strong reminder of who has owned this court for the past year.
It’s difficult to believe that Kim Clijsters, 27, is only one year older than Vera Zvonareva, who had her 26th birthday last week, because their differences in maturity are so much greater.
On court, Zvonareva is known for her child-like tantrums and rants, while Clijsters typically remains cool and unfazed by drama—both of these reputations held true on Saturday.
At 27, Clijsters is not only a two-time Grand Slam champion, but also took two years off in the prime of her career to have a child.
Zvonareva is only just hitting her stride, reaching her first two Grand Slam finals in the last two slams.
Needless to say, Vera has some growing up to do before she can claim a championship of her own.
After the match, Kim talked with a maturity well beyond her 27 years, emphasizing the maturity difference:
"A little bit of experience definitely helps. I told her it's tough. It took me six or seven finals [really four] before I finally got one. Vera, keep it going. It will happen."
This was certainly high percentage tennis—a high percentage of success for Clisters, and likewise of errors for Zvonareva.
A look at the numbers says it all: on the stat sheet, the match was completely one-sided as well.
Zvonareva committed 24 unforced errors to Clijsters’ 15, and contributed a measly 6 winners to Clijsters’ 17.
In the end, Clijsters won 58 points, overpowering Zvonareva’s 31.
Each player’s service ability was also crucial in this match. For Kim, her serve was on fire,making 77% of her first serves, and winning 78% of first serve points.
Clijsters held off Zvonareva’s only break chance at 3-1 in the second set with her only ace of the match.
Meanwhile, for Vera, two detrimental double faults in the second set led to Clijsters’ two breaks.
Zvonareva finished with 4 double faults and a 66% first serve percent, winning less than half of those first serves (48%).
Despite Clijsters’ rout of Zvonareva on Saturday, she actually holds a losing record against the Russian this season.
Though Clijsters held a 5-2 advantage over Zvonareva, Vera defeated Kim in their two other meetings in 2010.
En route to Zvonareva’s finals appearance at Wimbledon, she defeated Clijsters in the quarterfinals, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. They then met at the quarterfinals in Montreal, where again Vera prevailed in three sets, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
It may have taken Clijsters three meetings in 2010 to beat Zvonareva, but she’s got a hefty prize to show for it: her third US Open title.
Clijsters certainly had a more difficult road to the final than Zvonareva, but her challenging matches leading up to Saturday only helped to prepare her for the final.
Clijsters is athletic enough that two intense three-setters against Sam Stosur and Venus Williams in the quarters and semis is not enough to drain her physically or mentally.
Having to dig in and fight back only made her more prepared to fight back against someone who defeated her twice this year.
Similarly, Zvonareva would have benefited from a few more difficult matches, at least to help her prepare mentally for an emotionally and physically difficult opponent like Clijsters.
Zvonareva was never pushed to three sets in the tournament, and easily disposed of her most difficult opponent, Wozniacki, 6-4, 6-3.
True, she should have had the confidence from her top-level play the past two weeks and the knowledge that she beat Clijsters two times already, but once that confidence was shaken, she was done.
So much of women’s tennis today is about the brand—the Williams’ sisters own fashion lines, Venus’ book, Wozniacki’s partnership with Stella McCartney, Maria Sharapova with Cole Haan—that their flashy
on- and off-court personas become so entrenched in their games.
Wozniacki and Venus might be as remembered in this Open for their yellow nails and sequined dresses as they will be for their semifinal losses.
Even their entourages are impressive: Caroline Wozniacki even had Donald Trump in her players’ box for several matches.
Yet, the two women that made the final showed us that none of that excess is necessary. Clijsters has never been about the show or the fashion of it all—just about getting her job done.
Zvonareva, who plays with a long-sleeve cover-up and a typically empty player’s box (aside from coach Sergey), is equally no-frills.
They don’t need sequins or jewelry or cushy endorsement deals—they just went out and played some tennis, and New York loved it all the same.
On Saturday, it seemed like Clijsters was returning every one of Zvonareva’s shots, and most of the time, Zvonareva had no answer. Clijsters moved beautifully in the back court.
She hit shots at absurd angles or bombs down the line, but the whole time making it seem effortless.
Kim’s deftly angled shots often extended Zvonareva to resort to painful looking splits or last ditch swats at returns, and several times CBS used their “flo-motion” technology to show how Clijsters essentially played puppeteer with Zvonareva’s movement.
Because Kim was able to hit with such angles and force Zvonareva into the corner to chase down so many shots, she shut down Vera’s game, which is all about setting up the backhand and disguising her return.
In the end, Kim’s movement and placement of the ball was far superior to Zvonareva’s, to the point that John McEnroe commented, “This is difficult to watch.”
For much of Clijsters’ career, she has flown under the radar. She is now finally out of the shadow of her Belgian compatriot, Justine Henin, and firmly ranked No. 2 in the world.
But unlike most of the other European players, who live for Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Clijsters seems to call the US Open home.
She loves the Open and loves New York. Though she is not American, she has an American husband and splits her time between New Jersey and Belgium.
The New York crowd has certainly embraced her, and she feels comfortable on the US hardcourts.
She gets to enjoy all of the benefits of tennis in the U.S., but without the weight of “American tennis” on her shoulders that players like the Williams’ bear.
Clijsters feels at home on Arthur Ashe, a sentiment she discusses often. “New York is an amazing place for me,” Clijsters said during the tournament.
“It has brought nothing but happiness to my tennis life. Whenever I step on this court (Ashe), it feels like coming home.”
She may not have the trophy, but even as runner-up, Zvonareva takes home a cool $850,000.
In addition, with her run to the final and defeat of #1 Caroline Wozniacki, she moves up to #3 in the ranking. (She would have reached #2 had she won the title).
She may not have her first major under her belt yet, but her appearance in two Slam finals this year and her likely end-of-year #3 ranking definitely positions her as a threat going into next season.
This certainly is not the end of her championship run, and with each loss she seems to get hungrier and hungrier.
She’s got the momentum, but she has some growing up to do over the next year (or really the next four months before Melbourne) if she wants to see the winner’s circle.
Clijsters and Zvonareva were greeted before the match by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
This was appropriate, considering Clijsters now joins Evert and Navratilova among a select group of three-time U.S. Open champions.
In fact, Clijsters also became the first player since Evert to win the Open three times in three consecutive appearances, albeit not in consecutive years.
Clijsters won the open in 2005, and though she did not play from 2006 to 2008 (due to injury and a brief retirement), she won again in 2009 and successfully defended her title last night.
Evert actually holds the record for consecutive wins—four wins in four appearances (1975- 1978). However, Kim definitely has a shot at challenging that record in 2011, and beyond.