Getting to every ball, putting most shots right where she wanted them, Kim Clijsters was so dominant in the U.S. Open final that it would have taken a perfect performance to top her. Vera Zvonareva of Russia did not produce one. Far from it.
Playing on the blue hard courts she's come to love, Clijsters won a second consecutive U.S. Open championship and third overall by easily beating a shaky Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 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," the Flemish tennis star 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 in July - hardly presented much of a challenge on this night.
Not since 1995 has a U.S. Open women's final lasted three sets, and this one wasn't about to end that trend. And not since 1976 was there a women's final where the loser won only three games.
Put simply, 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 two years in a row. And Clijsters' U.S. Open winning streak is actually up to 21 matches because 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 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Jada, spent the evening in the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium, munching on a thick slice of watermelon, then savouring some sweets.
"It's been an incredible year being back. This is the first time I've been able to defend my title here at the U.S. Open," Clijsters said, reaching down to fix Jada's hair, 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 take home a Grand Slam trophy.
This time, in addition to another championship, Clijsters was awarded 1.73 million euros - the winner's check of 1.34 million euros, plus another 392,000 euros for finishing second in the U.S. Open Series standings that take 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 U.S. Open began. "Everything comes easier."
Over and over, Clijsters would scramble to balls that seemed out of reach and get them back over the net, sometimes doing full splits right there 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-love 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.
"I was trying to find a way to pump myself up, to change something up," Zvonareva explained later.
She yelled at herself after two unforced errors in the second game of that set, and proceeded to double-fault to get broken at love and trail 2-0. All things considered, it was nothing compared to the tantrum Zvonareva threw in her fourth-round loss at last year's U.S. Open, when she wasted six match points. She bawled. She pounded her palm on her leg while sitting on the court. She slammed her racket against her leg. She begged the chair umpire to let her have some scissors so she could cut tape off her knees.
Clijsters never allowed Zvonareva to find any sort of groove Saturday and there were moments when things weren't really competitive.
It got so lopsided that John McEnroe, providing TV commentary on the match, felt compelled to tell viewers early in the second set: "This might be the most I've ever wanted Kim Clijsters to lose serve. She's such a great person, but this is difficult to watch right now."
Zvonareva said she lacked energy, and thought that might be because she played doubles in New York.
"It must be frustrating for her to not be able to play at her best level when it was most needed," Clijsters said.
Zvonareva never had made it past the fourth round at the U.S. Open before, but she won all 12 sets she played to get to the final, including an upset of No. 1-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the semi-finals.
Her victory complete, Clijsters picked up Jada, cradling her in the crook of her left elbow, while holding the U.S. Open trophy in her right hand as photographers snapped away.
Moments later, after being put in a chair by her mother, Jada pointed to the nearby cameras and said, "No photos."
(VRT and AP)