NEW YORK – Well, she sure answered that question.
Those wondering how serious a threat Kim Clijsters might be at the U.S. Open after a two-year layoff got their answer Sunday, when the 2005 champion at Flushing Meadows toppled No. 3 Venus Williams, 6-0, 0-6, 6-4 to advance to the quarterfinals.
Moving well, stinging shots with both forehand and backhand and matching every bit of Williams’ power, the Belgian star offered a startling referendum on the state of her game.
It may have also said something about the true state of Williams’ left knee, which she hurt in the opening round, but had refused throughout the tournament to use as an excuse.
“It was unbelievable. I don’t know what to say,” Clijsters said. “It was such a weird match, especially those first two sets. But after I lost the second at 6-0, I said, let’s start over and start a new match.”
Indeed, the match began the way many Sundays do in Queens – with a couple of bagels. It took a grand total of 50 minutes to complete those first two sets, but both players regrouped from that bit of awkwardness and played some of the most compelling, solid tennis of the tournament so far.
Clijsters grabbed an early break for a 3-1 lead in the third, helped by one of Williams’ five double-faults to close it out. Clijsters served out the match from there, though it was anything but routine.
She fell behind 0-30 on her serve at 5-4, but just kept banging away. She got it to 30-40, then hit a shot deep into the corner that Williams couldn’t handle. She forced an error at deuce with another deep groundstroke, then skidded a service winner off the line on the backhand side for the win.
Her reaction was one not so much of surprise, as a smile that seemed to say “I told you so.” She became the first female wild-card entrant to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals. One promising slice of history: This marked the third meeting between Clijsters and Williams at the U.S. Open, and each previous time, the winner has gone on to take the championship.
“I’ve been working really hard the last seven, eight months and I’m enjoying it,” Clijsters said. “It’s something that’s really important for myself, as long as I can focus on tennis and have fun on the outside as well.”
Clijsters retired in 2007 to start a family and hadn’t seen Grand Slam action since that year.
Mother of an 18-month-old daughter, Jada, Clijsters is trying to join Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong as the third mother to win a Grand Slam singles title.
On the men’s side, No. 3 Rafael Nadal overcame a 10-minute medical break for an injury to his stomach muscles to defeat 32nd-seeded Nicolas Almagro, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.
Nadal missed Wimbledon with knee injuries, and now must deal with injured abs that first cropped up last month in Cincinnati.
“I don’t want to talk about injuries,” Nadal said. “Sorry. No, no, I am a little bit tired to talk about injuries. I am here to try my best every day.”
In other men’s matches, No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez advanced, as did No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, while 24th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero moved on when ninth-seeded Gilles Simon retired in the fourth set with a right knee injury.
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