x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Clijsters back in grand fashion

Kim Clijsters marked her dazzling return to the grand slam spotlight by ousting Venus Williams, while Nadal struggled off-court with injuries.

Kim Clijsters of Belgium celebrates her win over Venus Williams.
Kim Clijsters of Belgium celebrates her win over Venus Williams.

NEW YORK // Kim Clijsters marked her dazzling return to the grand slam spotlight by ousting Venus Williams, while her sister Serena picked up the slack by digging in for an extended New York stay. There was no shortage of drama amid the ideal weather at Flushing Meadows, with Rafael Nadal advancing to the fourth-round with more eyes than usual focused on him. Second seed Andy Murray joined the men's clique still alive for the Open's second week, along with sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, French seventh seed Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain and Chile's Fernando Gonzalez.

The scores of ticket-holders streaming into a sold-out National Tennis Center correctly sensed that Day Seven of the year's final grand slam would be special. Clijsters's electrifying appearance in the limelight after a two-year hiatus had more than 23,000 in Arthur Ashe Stadium cheering her every move. She took a bite out of Venus's Big Apple experience with a wacky 6-0 0-6 6-4 victory, a one-hour, 42-minute theatrical adventure able to rival anything on nearby Broadway.

"It was unbelievable," said the euphoric Belgian, who left the game to start her family. "I don't really know what to say. It was such a weird match. "After I lost the second set 6-0 I was just like, okay, just start over and fight for every point," added Clijsters, who will next face Li Na after the Chinese veteran beat Italy's Francesca Schiavone 6-2 6-3. Winning on the Open's marquee court provided a sense of deja vu for the unseeded 26-year-old Clijsters, who won the title here in 2005.

"It's still kind of hard to believe," she said. "But then again, I'm not trying to get carried away with it all. Just trying to focus on what I have to do because the tournament's still going." Since Clijsters's return is only weeks old, the affable Belgian does not even have a ranking. Clijsters won her serve to close out the match, but had to save to two break points in the process. The former world number one conceded she was "shaking" in the final game.

"My arm felt like 50 pounds or more. But I told myself, 'Look, don't give it away like that.' Try to play aggressive tennis and let her come up with a good shot to win it." "She played well," offered third-seeded Venus, whose quest for a third Open title - and first since 2001 -- was derailed. "She's always played well throughout her career. I'm sure she'll continue to do that." With 29-year-old Venus having checked out of the tournament, number two seed Serena had the family flag still flying high with a 6-2 6-0 annihilation of Daniela Hantuchova.

The Slovakian has already pencilled in her choice as the last woman standing, saying: "When she's playing like this, I don't think there's anybody that can beat her." Nadal knocked off Spanish compatriot and childhood friend Nicolas Almagro 7-5 6-4 6-4 in a third-round match but the southpaw drew the most attention when he was off the court. While trailing 2-1 in the third set, the muscle-bound Nadal was flat on his back on the sideline having his stomach taped by tournament medics.

Nadal, a 23-year-old with tendinitis in both knees, is looking to complete his career grand slam but that may be too tough a task with an injury-wracked body. The Majorca native was giving no clues as to the extent of his latest misery, believed to be a problem with his right abdominal muscle that first surfaced in Cincinnati last month. "No, no, I am a little bit tired to talk about injuries," he said after his two-hour, 39-minute victory. "I am here to try my best every day. I won the match in three sets, so happy for that. I'm going to try my best next round. That's all."

Murray, the Open runner-up in 2008, needed only 90 minutes to extinguish American Taylor Dent 6-3 6-2 6-2 and set up a fourth-round encounter with Croat Marin Cilic. The Scot was pleased with his tournament run so far, having beaten Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, Chile's Paul Capdeville and the missile-serving Dent. "I played three pretty different players," he said. "First one was a big sever who stayed at the back. Second one didn't hit the ball that big, but really had nothing to lose. Taylor obviously is a serve and volleyer.

"I thought I dealt with the different tests that were sort of put in front of me pretty well. Try and play like that for the next few matches." *Reuters