NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kim Clijsters advanced to her fourth U.S. Open final after winning a titanic center court battle against Venus Williams. A third title is now within her reach.
The only person left standing in her way is Russia’s Vera Zvonareva, who upset the tournament’s number one seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 6-3 on Friday to reach her first singles final in New York.
Clijsters had to work much harder to earn her place in Saturday’s final but got there in the end, defeating the former world number one 4-6 7-6 6-4 after they slugged it out for almost two and a half hours.
A year ago, Clijsters provided one of the great fairytale stories of modern tennis when she returned to the game after dropping out to start a family. This year is not so much a storybook as a sequel.
“Obviously it means a lot to be in the final and to give myself a chance to defend my title from last year,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Williams had her chance to win the match but her serve, the fastest in women’s tennis, let her down when she needed it most and Clijsters seized her opportunity.
Williams captured the second of her U.S. Open titles in 2001 when she was the number one player in the world but has made the final only once since, eight years ago.
At 30, time could be running out for her to win again even though she has no thoughts of retirement.
“I’m gonna keep playing,” she said. “At this point I’m striking the ball well, so there is no end in sight at the moment.”
The Williams sisters have tormented and terrorized their opponents for over a decade but Clijsters does not fear them.
A year ago, the Belgian mother beat both Venus and Serena to win her second U.S. Open title, four years after her first. This time, she only needed to beat the older of the American siblings.
“Obviously, beating Venus here last year and this year, it’s a good feeling,” Clijsters said.
“Today was probably one of the best matches that I’ve played throughout the tournament.
“I was able to raise my level and that’s probably what I’m most pleased about, I was able to win a close match like this.”
Wozniacki was a surprise runner-up in New York last year but the only surprise this time was that she did not make the final again.
The 20-year-old Dane had been in dazzling form over the last two months, winning three lead-up tournaments and sailing through to the semis without dropping a set before coming unstuck against the older and more experienced Zvonareva.
“It’s always disappointing when you lose a match but I just need to learn from this,” Wozniacki said.
“I made it to the semi-finals of the U.S. Open and when I look back on this tournament I can be proud of what I’ve achieved.”
The seventh-seeded Zvonareva has been one of the most improved players in the women’s game over the last two seasons, making her first grand slam semi-final in Australia last year then her first final at Wimbledon in July.
“I always believe I can beat anyone on the other side of the net if I’m able to play my best tennis,” Zvonareva said.
“I know I’m not gonna play perfect tennis all the time, like most of the players, but that’s what we are all trying to do.”
The American twins Mike and Bob Bryan clinched their ninth grand slam title with a 7-6 7-6 victory over Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi in the men’s doubles final, leaving them just two shy of the record of Australians Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge.
But it was the runners-up, an unlikely pairing from India and Pakistan, who charmed the center court crowd, including their respective ambassadors to the U.S. who sat side-by-side in the stands watching the match.
“It’s just a match and it’s just a game,” Mike Bryan said afterwards. “A lot of people in Pakistan don’t have homes and are out on the street.
“What these guys are doing bringing India and Pakistan together is very special. It shows that sport can bring people together.”
The men’s singles semi-finals will be played on Saturday afternoon ahead of the women’s final, with world number one Rafa Nadal facing Mikhail Youzhny and five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer meeting Novak Djokovic.
Editing by Nick Mulvenney