In Another New York Minute
September 6, 2009 -- For the first time in the Open Era a wildcard has made her way to the quarterfinals at the U. S. Open when, in a lopsided affair on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court, Kim Clijsters defeated the #3 seed Venus Williams. The women had bageled each other to split the first two sets in fifty short minutes.
Williams lost control of the final set when she double faulted to lose the third game. Clijsters held the break until she struck the winning ball, although she stood on shaky ground at 15-40, 5/4. But like the champion she was in 2005 here at the U. S. Open, Clijsters held her ground and worked her way out of the deficit to close the match 60 06 64.
Clijsters' victory over the 29-year-old Venus Williams continued the trend on the women's side where a majority of top seeds had fallen earlier than expected. Only 10 seeds remain, as the round of sixteen is completed; whereas, on the men's side 17 seeds stand a chance to win the title.
On the top half of the women's draw only three seeds remain. They are clustered at the bottom. When Dinara Safina fell last night to 19-year-old Petra Dvitova the vacuum in that upper section was an audible suck of talent right out the gates of the National Tennis Center. However, the same could be said about Andy Roddick's early exit at the hands of countryman John Isner, an unexpected reversal of fortune for the #5 seed Roddick and Wimbledon runner-up.
Gisela Dulko of Argentina is probably the name most recognized now in that section. Yanina Wickmayer (also 19 years old), Katarina Bondarenko, and Petra Dvitova are not American household tennis star names. But you cannot deny their place in the draw and the matches they had to win to advance.
Comparisons to the men's game aside, you could conclude that the women's game is adrift especially when a player - Kim Clijsters - comes back after a two-year baby hiatus and puts Venus Williams out of contention for a major title she had won on three previous occasions: 1997, 2000, and 2001. And Clijsters last played the Open the same year she won it -- 2005.
Venus tried her best today, too. After losing the first set she began to hit the ball harder and stayed lower to the ground, which is an effort for a woman who stands six-feet-two inches tall. Her face, too, transformed. Her eyes intensified their glare across the net to Clijsters; her jaw was set. She looked mighty intimidating.
In the final at Wimbledon against Lindsay Davenport, Sue Barkley of the BBC asked Venus immediately following her victory how she kept up her offense, when Davenport had the title on her racquet. "I told myself to stay down and keep my head down," Venus replied. That's what she did today.
Williams punctuated the game that got her on the scoreboard with an ace, her first of the match. The momentum shift seemed palpable, as Kim came to the baseline to serve. But fans couldn't be sure, given the roller coaster ride they had ridden up to this point. Williams did break Clijsters, though. Williams' service speed had accelerated, her ground game had steadied itself, and Clijsters first serve percentage had fallen off.
But in the final set and after Venus's crucial double fault, no one in that stadium really believed she could up the ante enough to overtake Clijsters. She moved better, showing off her fleet-of-foot talent and her keen timing on the ball that she took earlier and earlier to rob Venus of precious defensive moments. The three break points that Clijsters saved to win the match emphasized her gritty tenacity today. This was her match.
In a press conference on Friday, Clijsters was asked about her upcoming match with Venus Williams. "It's obviously going to be a good game for me," she said. "It's these kind of matches that make it very special. It's going to be tough. She's been a little bit up and down in her match. But I think overall when she has to, you know, when she has to bring it, she's been able to bring it."
Clijsters believes that the Williams' sisters can up their quality of play when they struggle. However, that talent, as Clijsters characterized it, came up short today for the #3 seed.
Number two seed Serena Williams is the highest seeded female player to begin the final week of the 2009 U. S. Open. Her 12th major is not a guarantee. She could face Kim Clijsters in the semifinals and, if she takes revenge on Venus's loss, she might then meet Melanie Oudin in the final next Saturday. And, who knows, in another New York minute the mighty-mite of the tournament could just pull off the biggest upset of the years. It's been that kind of tournament... right?