Kim Clijsters routs Vera Zvonareva, 6-2, 6-1, to win U.S. Open

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2010; 12:53 AM

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. - Vera Zvonareva waltzed into her first U.S. Open final without losing a set, toppling the tournament's top seed along the way and, for the most part, keeping her notoriously combustible emotions in check.

But all those encouraging signs of progress withered in the face of the unrelenting defense and determined drive of Kim Clijsters, who steamrolled to a third U.S. Open championship in just 59 minutes, defeating Zvonareva, 6-2, 6-1.

It was the most lopsided U.S. Open women's final since 1976, when Chris Evert routed Evonne Goolagong, 6-3, 6-0.

Clijsters takes home $2.2 million for the achievement: a $1.7 million winner's check (the same amount that will be awarded the winner of Sunday's men's final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who ousted five-time champion Roger Federer in a five-set thriller earlier Saturday) and a $500,000 bonus for having finished second in the U.S. Open Series that precedes the season's final major.

Both women wept during the trophy presentation that followed: Zvonareva, for not having played a more competitive match; and Clijsters, in referencing her late father as she thanked her husband, 2-year-old daughter Jada, coaches, family members and friends for their support over the years.

Clijsters's career arc has been both improbable and impressive. After reaching No. 1 in the world at age 20, she retired four years later to get married and start a family. Then, after a more than two-year hiatus, she returned to competitive tennis and won her second major, the 2009 U.S. Open, in just her third tournament back as an unseeded wild card.

Saturday night's postmatch celebration was reminiscent of the one a year ago, with Jada joining her mother on court and ogling the shiny trophy as Clijsters addressed the crowd.

"I've enjoyed it," Clijsters said. "The conditions have been very hard these last two weeks, with the wind. I've always tried to keep her curls down," she said with a laugh, running her fingers through Jada's curly hair. "I'm only joking! I've always tried to bring my best. I'm glad to be standing here as the winner. New York is an amazing place for me. It has brought nothing but happiness to my tennis life. Thank you."

Zvonareva, a 26-year-old Russian graduate student and Wimbledon finalist, had been expected to mount a much tougher fight. She had no trouble dismissing top-seeded Carolina Wozniacki, 6-4, 6-3, on Thursday to advance to her second consecutive Grand Slam final.

But against Clijsters, there was no trace of the shot-making, footwork or confidence that had gotten her this far.

After breaking Zvonareva's serve in the sixth game, Clijsters reeled off the next five games with scant fight-back.

During that streak, Zvonareva bashed her racket on the court. But the outburst was restrained compared with the Russian's famous meltdown during her loss to Italy's Flavia Pennetta at the U.S. Open last year.

After failing to convert six match points, she beat on her legs in frustration, smacked herself in the head and was refused a pair of scissors by the chair umpire when she sought to strip off the heavy bandages on both knees.

Zvonareva's effort Saturday night lacked such histrionics.

And as the match grew increasingly lop-sided, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium fell silent, as if embarrassed for the Russian, whose wails and dejected posture telegraphed defeat on nearly every point.

"People are shocked this is so one-sided," said four-time U.S. Open champion John McEnroe, commenting on the match for CBS. "It's taking the air out of the building."

There were few extended rallies to cheer. But the crowd roared with approval when Zvonareva finally won a game in the second set.

Zvonareva finished with six winners and 24 unforced errors.

Clijsters, for her part, broke the Russian's serve four times and won 58 of the match's 89 points.

Clijsters was gracious about the beat-down, telling Zvonareva when they embraced at the net to keep with it, and that good things would happen.

"A little bit of experience definitely helps," Clijsters said, in addressing the crowd. "I think it took me six or seven years of [reaching] finals before I finally got one. Vera, keep it going! You're a great player, and it will happen."

Her eyes red from crying, Zvonareva said: "Kim played tremendously well today. She deserved to win. Even though I'm disappointed at the moment, I still love New York."

It has now been 15 years since the U.S. Open has had a three-set women's final. That year, in 1995, Steffi Graf defeated Monica Seles, 7-6 (8-6), 0-6, 6-3.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company