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TENNIS / U.S. OPEN

Kim Clijsters' U.S. Open title is family friendly

Unseeded Belgian celebrates her unlikely victory with her husband and young daughter, bringing a needed jolt of joy to Ashe Stadium a night after Serena Williams' meltdown.

September 14, 2009|Diane Pucin

NEW YORK — A curly-haired mother and her curly-haired daughter painted over some tennis ugliness with airy joyousness Sunday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Unseeded Kim Clijsters won her second U.S. Open championship with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Danish teenager Caroline Wozniacki, who was seeded ninth.

After a match-winning forehand, Clijsters, 26, celebrated with her 18-month-old daughter Jada and her husband Brian Lynch, who once played basketball at Villanova and who tugged on his stubbly beard throughout the match. "I was more nervous than Kim," he said.

Jada left her little-girl fingerprints on the silver trophy and dashed back and forth in front of the photographers. She also impishly kept pulling up one leg of her black stretch pants to her knee, even after Clijsters made motherly attempts to tidy up her toddler. It was suddenly possible to forget the scene 24 hours earlier on the same court.

That's when defending champion Serena Williams raged over a foot-fault call, directing an obscene verbal tirade toward the lineswoman who made the call and making aggressive gestures with her racket and a ball in her hand.

Clijsters is the first mother to win this tournament in tennis' Open era (1968-present) and the first one to win any major since Evonne Goolagong won Wimbledon in 1980. She came here as an unseeded wild-card entry, needing an invitation into the main draw because she didn't have a computer ranking after retiring two years ago so she could become a wife and mother.

And unlike Saturday night, when a celebration of her big win over Williams was denied because of the circumstances, Clijsters was allowed to fully experience the joy of this evening. After her winning forehand she dropped to her knees and covered her face. When she uncovered her eyes, the tears started.

"I can't believe this happened," Clijsters said. "It still seems so surreal. I just wanted to come here and get a feel for it all over again, play a Grand Slam so when I started the next year I didn't have to go through all the new experiences. It's a great feeling to have, but confusing in a lot of ways as well."

Her physical trainer, Sam Verslegers, said that when Clijsters began in January to work toward making a comeback, she was at "zero" in terms of strength and conditioning. "I didn't set up goals," Verslegers said. "She could run about 30 minutes, that was it."

There was a plan, though, according to her coach Wim Fassette. "When we started we had one common goal, to win the U.S. Open. We knew it would be very difficult but it could be done."

This was only Clijsters' third tournament since she ended her retirement, but in her run here she beat four seeded players, including both third-seeded Venus Williams and the second-seeded Serena. Only Martina Hingis (2001 Australian Open) and Justine Henin (2007 U.S. Open) beat both sisters in the same Grand Slam event.

This was Clijsters' second Grand Slam tournament title. The first was here in 2005, but because of injuries and then her retirement, Clijsters never had a chance to defend that title. Until Sunday night.

"I'm just lucky that I'm able to combine both [motherhood and tennis] and that my family supports me doing this," Clijsters said.

For the early part of the first set, though, it seemed as if the fairy tale ending would belong to the Polish-speaking Dane with the designer dress and tennis-racket necklace.

Wozniacki played with much less power than Williams had a night earlier and her arsenal of arching lobs, leisurely moon balls and strategically-placed ground strokes that kept touching the sidelines and baseline allowed her to serve for the first set with a 5-4 lead.

But fittingly for an event in which women consistently produced unsteady service games filled with double faults (notably 21 by Maria Sharapova in her loss to Melanie Oudin), Wozniacki couldn't hold serve.

"I couldn't keep my serve in the end of the first set," she said. "That just caused me trouble. It wasn't about my nerves . . . I just wanted to [serve] it a little bit better and put a little bit more in the corners."

Clijsters said she drew great happiness from watching Jada frolic on the court and from being able to give her husband a kiss. "I'm very lucky that I'm able to combine everything I love," she said.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

When underdogs have their day

How unseeded finalists have fared in women's Grand Slam events in the Open era (1968-present):

2009 U.S. Open: Kim Clijsters def. Caroline Wozniacki (9), 7-5, 6-3.

2007 Australian Open: Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova (1), 6-1, 6-2.

1999 Australian Open: Amelie Mauresmo lost to Martina Hingis (2), 6-2, 6-3.

1997 U.S. Open: Venus Williams lost to Hingis (1), 6-0, 6-4.

1997 Australian Open: Mary Pierce lost to Hingis (4), 6-2, 6-2.

1983 French Open: Mima Jausovec lost to Chris Evert (2), 6-1, 6-2.

1978 Australian Open: Chris O'Neil def. Betsy Nagelsen (5), 6-3, 7-6 (5).

1977 French Open: Florenta Mihai lost to Jausovec (1), 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-1.

1976 French Open: Renata Tomanova lost to Sue Barker (1), 6-2, 0-6, 6-2.

1971 French Open: Helen Gourlay lost to Evonne Goolagong (3), 6-3, 7-5.

-- Source: Associated Press

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