Kim Clijsters, Seeking U.S. Open Three-Peat, Defeats Venus Williams

Kim Clijsters is closing in on her third straight title at the U.S. Open.

Clijsters, the defending champion and No. 2 seed from Belgium, beat third-seeded American Venus Williams 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 yesterday in a 2-hour, 23-minute semifinal to return to the final, where tonight she’ll take on Russia’s Vera Zvonareva.

After winning the U.S. Open in 2005, Clijsters was unable to defend the title in 2006 because of a wrist injury. Then she retired for 28 months while starting a family, missing the tennis season’s final Grand Slam in 2007 and 2008.

She returned last year to again claim the title, and can run her streak of wins at New York’s National Tennis Center to 21 tonight in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I always feel good here, so I know that if I play good tennis I can give myself an opportunity to get into that second week and play those big matches,” Clijsters said yesterday in a news conference. “This is where I’ve played some of the best tennis that I’ve ever played.”

Clijsters, 27, knocked off Williams last year in the fourth round of the U.S. Open and then topped her sister in the semifinals when Serena Williams was given a point penalty to end the match after berating an official over a foot-fault call.

The win today tied Clijsters with Venus Williams, Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova for the second-longest winning streak at the season’s final Grand Slam since the Open era of professional tennis began in 1968. Chris Evert won 31 straight matches from 1975-79.

Top Three Seeds

It had been 25 years since the top three seeds on both the women’s and men’s sides reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open. Men’s top seed Rafael Nadal of Spain plays No. 12 seed Mikhail Youzhny of Russia this afternoon in one semifinal, and second-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland takes on No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the other.

If both Nadal and Federer advance, they’ll become the first two players to face each other in all four Grand Slam finals.

Venus Williams, who won the U.S. Open in 2000 and 2001, surrendered just five points on her serve and converted the only break point in the first set of her defeat.

Service Breaks

Clijsters broke Williams’s serve twice in the second set and was serving for the set, up 5-3, before having her serve broken for a second time. Williams failed to win a point on her serve in the tiebreaker, twice double-faulting before missing an overhead shot and hitting another shot into the net.

Clijsters broke Williams’s serve to take a 2-1 final- set lead. Serving with the 4-3 advantage, Clijsters double- faulted twice and then missed an open-court forehand long to even the match.

She then reclaimed the advantage at 5-4, breaking Williams’s serve with a topspin lob that narrowly landed inside the baseline. The match-winning shot was a backhand winner.

“I just wished I could have played the bigger points a little better,” Williams said at a news conference. “Obviously, the tiebreak was a little more pressure. It was tougher to start serving with the wind behind you.”

Zvonareva, the No. 7 seed, upset top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3 to reach her second straight Grand Slam final. She lost to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final in early July.

Clijsters-Zvonareva

The 26-year-old Zvonareva hasn’t dropped a set in the tournament. Clijsters leads their head-to-head series 5-2, though Zvonareva won both of their meetings this year, in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon on grass and in the same round of a hard-court tournament in Montreal.

“She’s a player who doesn’t give you much,” Clijsters said of Zvonareva. “She’s always there, she hangs in there. It’s not like she has a game that’s very unpredictable, but what she does she does extremely well.”

Wozniacki, the U.S. Open runner-up to Clijsters a year ago, would have passed Serena Williams as the top-ranked player on the WTA Tour had she won the U.S. Open.

Wozniacki made 31 unforced errors and had her serve broken for the fourth time to end the match. She hit the ball into the net on the final point.

“It was very difficult for us with the wind,” Zvonareva said of the conditions inside Ashe Stadium for much of the two-week tournament. “I think I was patient and aggressive, like I was in the previous matches.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net

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