by Matthew Cronin
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Sometimes nice girls can finish first.
Playing an airtight and courageous final, Kim Clijsters blew out Mary Pierce 6-3, 6-1, and won her first Grand Slam title at the US Open on Saturday.
"It means a lot," said Clijsters, who spent last year's US Open watching her then-fiancée, Lleyton Hewitt, from the Friends Box with a cast on. "If I look back now, I think everything that happened there, happened for a reason. Maybe that's why I'm sitting here now, with this trophy next to me. I definitely think it all worked out very good for me."
After failing in her first four attempts to win a Slam crown, Clijsters showed none of the nerves that shook her in the 2003 US Open final when she was straight setted by Justine Henin-Hardenne. The 22-year-old beat Pierce from every angle of the court, serving more accurately, gunning her forehand and outrunning Pierce in nearly every extended rally.
"It's the best thing that can every happen to her finally," said her coach, Marc Dehous. "When we saw the draw and saw she had to beat Venus and Sharapova and then Pierce, that was like winning three finals in a row. She was mentally very tough."
Clijsters didn't always spank the ball, but slid into splits along the baseline and made Pierce overplay time and time again. She committed only 19 unforced errors in the match, whacked 16 winners and won 79 percent of her first serve points. Pierce tried to penetrate her with her big groundies, but Clijsters kept relentlessly retrieving.
"She's quicker than all the other girls that I've played so far,"' Pierce said. "She got another ball back every time. And even when I would hit a good shot that usually would either win a point or set up a winner for the next shot against other girls, Kim would hit another ball back and I'd know I'd just made a mistake. There are fast girls out there on the tour as well, but Kim is just solid. She gets real far behind the baseline and she slides, even on hard courts, and gets balls back. And not just get them back, but hits a fairly decent shot, and deep. I would definitely say that that is probably her strength."
With the victory, former No. 1 Clijsters notched her sixth title on US Open hardcourts, winning the US Open Series and with her victory in the final, collected a cool $2.2 million.
Pierce knew from the opening game that she was in deep trouble, when she missed a backhand on break point. Clijsters broke Pierce again to 4-1 when she forced her into a forehand error, but double faulted in the next game on break point.
But the Belgian remained solid while Pierce couldn't buy a swing volley and lost control of her down-the-line game. Clijsters broke Pierce again to win the first set when the Frenchwoman missed another backhand.
Pierce had her sore thigh wrapped in between sets, but it may no difference, as Clijsters stepped on the gas again, breaking Pierce again to 2-0 with a backhand swing volley.