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Clijsters Defeats Zvonareva for Back-to-Back U.S. Open Titles

Kim Clijsters had her daughter at her side and the U.S. Open trophy in her hands when she paused to remember a day New York will never forget.

Clijsters captured her second straight U.S. Open title last night, defeating Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 to run her winning streak at the National Tennis Center to 21 matches.

The second-seeded Belgian, who hasn’t lost at the U.S. Open since 2003, is the first woman with back-to-back championships since Venus Williams in 2000-01. Clijsters also won the title in 2005, and a deadly event before the triumphs held her attention.

“Nine years ago the world changed for everybody, and when I come to New York I think about 9/11,” she told the crowd on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “It was an honor to play here today and maybe give the people a distraction as well.”

Clijsters finished the 59-minute match with a forehand winner, then hopped into the stands for hugs from her husband, Brian Lynch, and eight others in her player’s box.

Then came her biggest challenge of the night -- trying to tame the wind, which has tormented players for the last week of the tournament.

“The conditions have been very hard these last two weeks,” she said, stroking the hair of 2½-year-old daughter, Jada. “I’m always trying to keep her curls down.”

Zvonareva, the seventh seed, was trying to become the third Russian woman to win the U.S. Open in the last seven years. Svetlana Kuznetsova won in 2004 and Maria Sharapova was the 2006 champion.

Not Overwhelmed

“I don’t think I was overwhelmed,” Zvonareva said in a news conference. “I think Kim just played very good match and she just didn’t give me chances to get into the match.”

The 27-year-old Clijsters earned $1.7 million for the victory and a bonus of $500,000 for placing second in the U.S. Open Series -- the six-week North American hard-court season that culminates with the season’s final major championship. That brought her career winnings to more than $20 million.

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal and third-seeded Novak Djokovic meet today in the men’s final.

Nadal, a Spaniard who is seeking to become the seventh man to complete a career Grand Slam by winning his first U.S. Open, defeated 12th-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 yesterday in the semifinals. Djokovic, from Serbia, saved two match points and beat second-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.

The crowd, which was rocking during the Federer-Djokovic match, was quieted by Clijsters’s dominance.

Seven Straight Games

Clijsters lost only four points on her serve in the first set, wrapping it up in 27 minutes. She won the last four games of that set, and took a 3-0 lead in the second set -- winning 14 of 15 points in one span.

Zvonareva, who was moved from side to side by Clijsters, slammed her racket to the court after double faulting to end the second game of the last set.

Clijsters reached the final by defeating Williams, an American seeded third, in a three-set semifinal. She defeated fifth-seeded Australian Samantha Stosur in the quarterfinals.

Clijsters is the first woman to win titles in three straight U.S. Open appearances since Chris Evert won four in a row in 1975-78.

After winning in 2005, Clijsters skipped the tournament in 2006 because of a wrist injury. She retired for 28 months while starting a family, missing the tournament in 2007 and 2008, then returned last year to win as an unseeded player.

21 Straight Wins

With her 21st straight win at the U.S. Open, Clijsters has the second-longest winning streak among women at the tournament since the Open era of professional tennis began in 1968. Evert won 31 straight matches from 1975 through 1979. Clijsters had been tied at 20 with Williams, Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova.

Even though she lost, the 26-year-old Zvonareva will move ahead of Clijsters when the new WTA rankings are released tomorrow. Zvonareva will move to No. 4 from No. 8. Clijsters will drop to No. 5 from No. 4.

Zvonareva was playing in her second straight Grand Slam final, having lost in the Wimbledon title match to American Serena Williams in early July.

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