NEW YORK (AP) – Winning a Grand Slam title wasn’t so hard for Kim Clijsters, after all.
Clijsters, who came up short her first four tries, finally won her first major title Saturday night, cruising to a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Mary Pierce at the U.S. Open. When she hit a service winner on the second championship point, Clijsters dropped her racket and put her hands to her face.
She hugged Pierce at the net and then rushed to the side of the court, climbing over a photographer’s pit and through the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach her family. She scaled a wall and inched along a rail as if it was a tightrope – maybe the toughest thing she did all night – before she reached her family. Sobbing, she hugged her mom and sister while Pierce watched, disconsolate, from the sidelines.
Clijsters won $2.2 million, double the top prize, because she won the U.S. Open Series.
“It’s still very hard to believe,” Clijsters said at the podium after receiving the winner’s check. “It’s an amazing feeling to have, especially after being out for so long last year. It means so much more.”
There’s never been a doubt about Clijsters’ talent.
She’s a former No. 1 who arrived at the Open with 27 titles – six this year alone. But she’d never won the Big One – any of the four majors.
She reached the finals at the French and U.S. opens in 2003, as well as the Australian in 2004. Each time, she fell short against Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne. She also lost to Jennifer Capriati in the 2001 French Open.
But that was before the career-threatening wrist injury. She had surgery last June to remove a cyst on her left wrist and missed the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She also missed this year’s Australian Open.
When she returned to the tour, she had a different, more determined attitude.
It showed against Pierce, who is enjoying a career resurgence at 30. Pierce took a controversial 12-minute timeout during her semifinal match, and she had her right thigh tightly wrapped Saturday night.
But no amount of tape could have helped her against Clijsters. The Belgian was too strong, too crisp, too fleet against Pierce.
She served notice from the start she was there to play, breaking Pierce in the first game of the match.
She used her superior athletic ability to chase down ball after ball, and made Pierce work for every point she got. Pierce seemed completely befuddled. After she hit a backhand wide to lose the first set, she walked slowly to the sidelines and called for a trainer.
But she was only prolonging the inevitable. Clijsters won 12 of the first 13 points of the second set to go up 3-0, and the match was all but over.
“Kim, congratulations,” Pierce said, standing next to her opponent at the podium. “I’m so happy for you; you’re such a sweet girl, and you’re a fantastic player. You were really too good today, and you deserved to win. Congratulations.”