Take a bow Kim Clijsters for providing a stagnating Women's Tennis Association tour with a much-needed shot in the arm. The popular Belgian, who rose to the top of the world rankings before calling a premature halt to her flourishing career two years ago, spectacularly regained the US Open title only a month after launching her comeback.
Clijsters, 26, who took time out to get married and give birth to baby daughter Jada, looked as though she had never been away from the vanguard of world tennis as she swept all before her at Flushing Meadows. Anybody who beats both Williams sisters in the same tournament deserves to win it and Clijsters did so in style on the way to overcoming the ninth-seeded Dane Caroline Wozniacki, who had profited from early big-name casualties in the top half of the draw, 7-5, 6-3 in the final which finished early yesterday.
In repeating her 2005 New York triumph, Clijsters became the first mother to win a grand slam since Evonne Goolagong-Cawley claimed Wimbledon glory in 1980. Cawley, the engaging Australian, was quick to congratulate Clijsters on emulating her tremendous feat. "I was so very excited to hear that Kim won, and I'm so happy for her," she said. "How gorgeous that she brought her daughter on court to celebrate. Please pass along my congratulations to her for such an amazing win."
Clijsters could not conceal her delight that all of her old trademark shots have clicked into gear so soon. A rapid return to the top 10 of the women's game looks a formality for a woman who needed a wild card to enter the Flushing Meadows event. More mature as she embarks on what she calls her second career, she served notice that she will be a big threat to the title aspirations of those who have replaced her at the top end of the rankings list. "Maybe now I've become a lot more understanding of myself, how to react when different emotions come up," she said.
"Maybe that's something you can't control when you're young and you get nervous. As an example, beating Venus a few rounds ago. Maybe in the past I would have been influenced a little bit about good results and then had the lack of that focus." Clijsters also thought she coped better with the extraordinary manner of her semi-final success over Serena, who incurred a penalty point when match point down. "Those are things which can have a big impact on you when you're 18 or 19.
"Now I have the experience of knowing how to deal with it and knowing myself better. I think that's the biggest difference - I know myself a lot better than I did a few years ago. Despite failing to trouble Clijsters in the rain-delayed final, Wozniacki took great consolation from her efforts over the last fortnight in the Big Apple. The teenager had never before progressed beyond the fourth round of a grand slam and believes the experience will stand her in good stead for future challenges.
"I just wanted to just know what I was up against in the early stages and I fast found out that I was up against a really strong player that doesn't give away any free points," said the Dane. "I really had to fight for it. She played really well. She played aggressively. She just played better than me." Wim Fisette, Clijsters' proud coach admitted that it was a surprise to see his charge capture a grand slam so soon after returning to action but reflected: "The level she has already reached isn't a surprise because she's such a big talent who doesn't need a year to get to her best level."
"She needed a few matches, but I knew she could do it at the Open. "She went every day to practise and then to play with Jada and she didn't have the time to think about that she had to play Serena or a final, because she was busy with Jada. It was perfect for her mind." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Editorial, a19