There she was winning on the big stage once again. Sometimes, Mom really does know best.
That proved true in Kim Clijsters’ amazing comeback story as she ran all the way to her second U.S. Open title with cute 18-month old daughter Jada looking on before a great Ashe Stadium environment in Flushing.
In just her third tournament back after taking two and a half years off to marry former Villanova hoops star Brian Lynch and start a family, the delightful 26 year-old Belgian’s experience proved too much for first-time slam finalist Caroline Wozniacki- besting the sweet ninth seed from Denmark 7-5, 6-3 in a match which took over an hour and a half.
â€œIt was not really our plan,â€ an exhilerated Clijsters said after becoming the first Mom to win a grand slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley back in 1980 (Wimbledon). â€œI just wanted to start these three tournaments and get back into the rhythm of playing tennis and get used to the surroundings again.â€
“You know, little nervous today and probably didn’t play as well as I did against Serena [Williams], but I still won. That’s all that counts for me now.”
Though it was the 19 year-old Dane’s first time playing for a major, she acquitted herself well proving that her run was no fluke. Following a shaky beginning in which she fell behind an early break 0-2, Wozniacki played some serious defense to reel off four consecutive games against a nervous Clijsters who began spraying shots.
“No, actually I wasn’t too nervous. I mean, you’re always excited when you’re going out to a match. But, you know, I just thought, I’m playing a Grand Slam final. I have nothing to lose. I just need to go out there and try to do my best, and that’s what I did,” Wozniacki said after becoming the first ever Dane to ever make it this far in a slam.
During that run, the New York crowd got to see some excellent rallies between the two in which Wozniacki mixed up her shots well including a solid two handed backhand and topspin forehand to gain an edge. After breaking back to get on the board, she settled down playing the conservative hustling style that had suited her well during the two weeks that included a straight set quarter ouster of American Melanie Oudin.
While Wozniacki’s ground attack was working, Clijsters’ went off going for too much which put the 2005 Open champ in a hole. Her opponent also showed strong will fighting off three break points by drawing errors before holding in the sixth game for 4-2.
The set nearly slipped away from the fan favorite who gave Wozniacki two more break opportunities in the next game. But that’s when her true mettle showed saving both including one with an inside out forehand crosscourt winner before gaining a critical hold for 3-4.
“She [Wozniacki] hits the ball very heavy, but she doesn’t miss. Against the Williams sisters, you always have the feeling that if you can just hang in there, they might give you more easy points,” assessed Clijsters on the style adjustment..
“She didn’t do that today. I think I really had to be patient, as well, but also try not to play along with her game. So I didn’t have that feeling until, you know, when I had match point. I was like, Okay, maybe I can do this.”
With momentum, Clijsters broke back in the eighth game to draw even. Following a nifty backhand defensive lob by a grinning Wozniacki to win a highly entertaining point for 15-30, a focused Kim locked in earning the break when her younger opponent double faulted.
However, she couldn’t keep it going blowing a 40-Love lead as a determined Wozniacki used some sheer hustle to get back in a point before a couple of nice half volleys forced a Clijsters’ miss for her third break of the opening set.
“But actually I was surprised myself that I wasn’t more nervous,” mentioned Wozniacki who still took plenty of positives from the tough defeat.
“And I just think that the thing that I was just thinking about one point at a time, one ball at a time, and I was really focused on what I really wanted to do out there. I think that really helped me. I think that helped me through the whole tournament.”
A game away from closing out the set, Wozniacki ran into trouble getting broken back by an equally focused Clijsters who began the game with a great backhand crosscourt. Wozy rebounded to grab the next pair moving two points from the set after a backhand winner. But Kim didn’t give in taking the next three including a return forehand winner to setup the break chance which she converted on a wide Wozniacki forehand making it five all.
Finally looking settled, she took the first three points. But again, Wozniacki came back getting it to Deuce before some big serving which included one of Clijsters’ three aces allowed her to escape for 6-5 swinging the momentum.
Finally more under control, she applied pressure to the teenager by continuing to dictate points with more pace forcing errors off Wozniacki’s racket to break at love, claiming the set.
â€œSheâ€™s playing because she thinks itâ€™s fun and because she likes it,â€ said Wozniacki, who faced someone she admired for the first time. â€œI really think she might be a better player now than she was before.â€
Perhaps the situation got to the Great Dane with Clijsters’ experience pushing her through a seesaw set that had seven combined breaks of serve. Not surprisingly, Kim had double the winners (16-8) and five more unforced errors (20-15) but most importantly, pulled the tight set out.
“Actually, I didn’t think too much about the score. I was just focused a lot about just playing one point at a time,” explained Wozniacki.
“But, you know, the thing was I couldn’t keep my serve in the end of the first set, and that just caused me trouble. She was right there. She started serving well, and, yeah, that’s why I lost the first set.”
During her run to the final, Wozniacki had only dropped one set with it coming against former Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in a come from behind three set Round of 16 win.
Could she mount a comeback? There certainly was no quit from her side as she continued to stick to the strategy of staying in rallies by making Clijsters hit another ball. The contrasting styles made for more intriguing points with the New Haven champ not afraid to come to net where she fared well taking 11 of 17 (65 percent) while Kim countered with a solid 10 of 15 (67 percent).
Indeed, the Ashe crowd enjoyed the variety as opposed to what the women’s game has become lately. With big girls swinging for the fences point after point without any alternative plan.
“I think Wozniacki is a great player. I think she’s someone who is going to have a really great future ahead of her. She’s a smart girl. I think she played some smart tennis today. That’s something I think we want to see. It’s not just the hard hitters,” praised Clijsters while adding:
“She’s really someone who thinks out there, and that is fun to see, as well.”
No wonder most games were so competitive. Despite that, each player did a better job protecting their serve with no breaks the first five games following another Clijsters ace for 3-2.
That’s when she sensed the finish line using powerful strokes and splendid angles to break Wozniacki at love highlighted by a forehand pass for Love-30 beating Caroline at the net along with a nice rally which finally drew an error for 4-2.
If she was going to make history becoming the first ever women’s wildcard to win the Open (Venus Williams made ’97 Final-lost to Martina Hingis), it was gonna be tough.
Wozniacki didn’t go away getting a couple of tight long backhands from Clijsters to pull within two points of getting back on serve. But Kim wouldn’t allow it taking the next four including an ace and forehand winner for 5-2. Suddenly, she was a game away.
With the fans encouraging Wozniacki because they wanted more tennis, she held her nerve to hold for 3-5 putting it on Clijsters’ racket.
“You know, Kim just played a great match. She really showed that she’s playing great tennis, and I’m happy to have her back. But of course I’d like to have taken the next step and have won this match. I mean, she played better to me today, and that’s why she won,” credited the runner-up.
Here she was needing four more points to complete one of the greatest storylines ever. It wasn’t long ago that she retired because the game wasn’t fun anymore and she wanted to start a family. And now, here she was having already knocked off both Williams sisters along with Marion Bartoli back in the second round to reach this point.
“Well, the motivation was missing then. It was something that, yeah, I came to an age where I really felt like, you know, combined with the injuries, I think, I wasn’t really 100% focused on my tennis anymore.”
“But I’m just very lucky that I’m able to combine both and that my family supports me in doing this.”
With that family behind her including Jada who made the funniest gestures all night, Clijsters seized the moment. Following two shaky points giving Wozniacki hope, she recovered well with a service winner pulling her even and then struck a forehand winner to setup championship point.
Of course, Wozniacki wouldn’t give it to her getting into one more fun rally before an aggressive Clijsters nailed a forehand which drew a short reply giving her an easy putaway into the open court for the win.
“I’m still, whenever I see my group, every time I say, like, I can’t believe this happened. Because it still seems so surreal that, yeah, in my third tournament back won my second Grand Slam,” the emotional winner pointed out.
“It’s a great feeling to have, but it’s confusing in a lot of ways, as well. It went so quickly, everything, so I didn’t really- especially after yesterday’s match. And then with the rain delays and everything, it just felt like especially these last couple of days everything went so quickly.”
The emotional champion dropped to her knees and then received a nice hug from Wozniacki before turning emotional with tears of joy as Jada held up 1 finger for Mom and her box cheered on. She then made it up there to celebrate with them embracing everyone and receiving a kiss from her proud husband.
â€œItâ€™s the greatest feeling in the world being a mother,â€ the two-time Open champ said while reminding fans that she finally got to defend her 2005 title to chuckles. â€œI just canâ€™t wait to spend next the few weeks with her and have her routine schedule at home again.â€
A special moment for a wonderful player who handles herself so well. This was the kind of champion the Open deserved and the crowd let her know it just by their reaction.
If one great Belgian can do it this way after playing only two tournaments, might we get the other one back in Justine Henin? For another day.
Wozniacki also got plenty of love from the crowd who enjoyed Sunshine’s easy demeanor and smile which was still there when she received the runner-up crown even speaking three languages including her native Danish and Polish thanking all her supporters. Why not? This was a major breakthrough for the WTA Tour wins leader who entered with 62. It just wasn’t her time which should come soon enough.
“I think it’s important to thank all my fans in Poland, as well, because I know that there are a lot of fans out there that are rooting for me. I think it’s important just to give something back,” she wisely noted.
This was Kim’s moment. Her tournament writing a perfect script which you only get in movies.
“Well, I mean, if I inspired them, great. But, you know, this is something that I, yeah, in my wildest dreams could never imagine happening.”
Twenty nine years later, Mom won and she got to celebrate with family including Jada who came onto the court taking cute pictures with Brian and Kim along with the trophy.
“That’s why it’s good all the photographers were there. Maybe I can get some pictures.”
Somehow, we don’t think that will be a problem. A night she’ll never forget.