NEW YORK // Getting to every ball, putting most shots right where she wanted them, Kim Clijsters was so dominant in the US Open final that it would have taken a perfect performance to defeat her. Vera Zvonareva did not produce one. Far from it. Playing on the blue hard courts she has come to love, Clijsters won a second consecutive US Open championship and third overall by easily defeating Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 on Saturday in a match that lasted 59 minutes and lacked any drama.
"It's always an honour to go back to a place, especially a grand slam, where you've done well and you've won, and you want to bring your best tennis again," Clijsters said. "I know if I bring my best, I'm capable of beating the best players." That she did, including Venus Williams in the semi-finals, although Zvonareva - also the runner-up at Wimbledon - hardly presented much of a challenge. Not since 1995 has a US Open women's final lasted three sets, and this one showed no chance of ending that trend. And not since 1976 was there a women's final where the loser won only three games.
The second-seeded Clijsters was too dominant; the seventh-seeded Zvonareva too shaky. "She didn't really give me chances to get into the match," Zvonareva said. "But I also think that physically today she was just much better." Clijsters is the first woman since Williams in 2000-01 to win the title in Flushing Meadows in consecutive years. And her US Open winning streak is up to 21 matches; she also won the 2005 title. She missed the tournament in 2006 because of injuries, including wrist surgery, and skipped it the next two years while taking time off to get married and have a baby.
Her two-and-half-year-old daughter, Jada, spent the evening in the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium, eating watermelon and candy. "It's been an incredible year being back. This is the first time I've been able to defend my title here at the US Open," Clijsters said, reaching down to fix Jada's hair, which was getting blown about in the breeze. "The conditions have been very hard the last two weeks with wind; I've always tried to keep her curls down. I'm always hoping."
Last year in New York, when Jada pranced around the court during the post-match ceremony, Clijsters became the first mother since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980 to earn a grand slam trophy. This time, in addition to another championship, Clijsters was awarded US$2.2 million (Dh8.1m) - the winner's check of $1.7 million, plus another $500,000 for finishing second in the US Open Series that takes into account hard-court tune-up tournaments.
"I've always felt more comfortable on this surface. Not just this year, but even when I was 14, 15, 16," Clijsters said in an interview the week before the US Open began. "Everything comes easier." Over and over, Clijsters scrambled to balls that seemed out of reach and got them back over the net, sometimes doing full splits along the baseline. She compiled a 17-6 edge in winners, and made nine fewer unforced errors than Zvonareva, 24-15.
Clijsters broke twice to take the first set, and often let Zvonareva cause her own problems. Clijsters needed only four winners in that set because Zvonareva made 13 unforced errors, including dumping a backhand into the net on the last point. After that mistake, Zvonareva told a ball person to get out of the way, so she could take a practice swing on her backhand side. When Zvonareva failed to get to a backhand and fell behind 40-0 in the opening game of the second set, she cracked her racket against the court twice, breaking it, and earning a warning from the chair umpire.
She yelled at herself after two unforced errors in the second game of that set, and double-faulted to be broken at love. Clijsters never allowed Zvonareva to find any sort of groove on Saturday. "It must be frustrating for her to not be able to play at her best level when it was most needed," Clijsters said. Her victory complete, Clijsters picked up Jada, cradling her in the crook of her left elbow, while holding the US Open trophy in her right hand. Moments later, Jada pointed to the nearby cameras and said, "No photos."
* Associated Press