Clijsters’ comeback run reaches U.S. Open final

On a sad and soggy night at Flushing Meadows, a proud champion was sent on her way for a foul-mouthed onslaught at a lineswoman who foot-faulted her, thus leaving a slightly bewildered Kim Clijsters the recipient of a place in the U.S. Open final, where on Sunday evening she will play the game’s up-and-coming star, Caroline Wozniacki.

There is little question that Clijsters, the new mom who won this title in 2005, deserved to beat Serena Williams because she produced a superior brand of power-hitting tennis. But it was not the way the gentle Kim wanted to win, and although Serena insisted her default would not taint the glory of it, there is no question she would have wanted it some other way.

By now, you know the sequence of events. When it was over, with as much grace as she could muster, Serena accepted the decision, put her racket in her bag and walked over to the far baseline where Clijsters was standing like a disengaged bystander. The pair shook hands and Kim actually looked the more distressed of the two.

Then came a bizarre press conference in which Serena managed to give full reign to her chameleon qualities, appearing both impressive and evasive.

Serena’s big meltdown

Photos: It was a wild night at the U.S. Open. Check out these shots of Serena Williams’ loud exit at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The air of confusion cleared when Clijsters walked in with her big smile. They are friends, Kim and Serena, but they are not alike. It would be difficult to find a less complicated sports star than this straight-talking Belgian from the country’s Flemish half. She got bored with tennis and feeling maternal yearnings, quit. Marriage and baby followed and she felt the urge to return.

So she did so. And within two months of her return she is in a Grand Slam final. It would be diminishing her extraordinary achievement to suggest that this was merely life following its natural course because few could have done what Kim has done. But with her it just seems simple. You go out, concentrate, play and win. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?

Did she understand what was going on with the default?

“To be honest with you, I didn’t even want to be involved,” she said. “OK, Kim, don’t lose focus. You want to win this last point here. I just tried to stay away. You’re kind of in your own bubble when you’re out there. So normal feelings of winning a match weren’t quite there.”

But she will have forgotten all that by the time she meets Wozniacki, the hard-hitting Dane who defeated the Belgian newcomer, Yanina Wickmayer over on Louis Armstrong 6-3, 6-3. Wickmayer, a tall, powerful athlete of great promise, had emerged as the surprise package of the tournament but although they are both 19, Wozniacki, seeded ninth, is a ahead in her development as a top player and used that extra experience to cut out the errors on important points. The final is not a foregone conclusion by any means although the force must surely be with Clijsters.

All this drama had started just after 9:00 p.m. after a drippy, drizzly day that raised all sorts of questions over scheduling, court dryers and roofs. Topics for another time. In the meantime, a dry spell in the morning had allowed Rafael Nadal to finish off Fernando Gonzalez in ruthless fashion 7-6, 7-6, 6-0. The match had re-started from Thursday at 7-6 with Nadal leading 3-2 in the second breaker.

“Important thing is to be ready to accept everything and arrive there knowing what to do, no?” was Nadal’s classic answer to being asked about how he had handled sitting around all of Friday without practice. He said the first couple of points were important so he won them and poor Gonzalez was history.

There is no question Nadal is hurting from abdominal strain and it will be up to Juan Martin del Potro to exploit that in the semifinal. But the Argentine shouldn’t count on it. Underestimating Rafa is a very dangerous occupation indeed.

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