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Kim Clijsters beats Venus Williams in three sets in U.S. Open semifinals

Venus Williams of the United States serves to Kim Clijsters of Belgium during the semifinal round of play at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Friday, Sept. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)
Venus Williams of the United States serves to Kim Clijsters of Belgium during the semifinal round of play at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Friday, Sept. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill) (Paul J. Bereswill - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 11, 2010; 12:43 AM

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. - It was a showdown between two former No. 1 players, each seeking her third U.S. Open championship. And it was a battle between a 30-year-old and the mother of a 2-year-old.

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Friday's clash between Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters for a spot in Saturday's U.S. Open final showcased the athleticism of women at an age and stage of life that not long ago might have been deemed retirement years.

It also delivered a gripping look at the power and pressure of women's tennis, with wild swings of momentum over 2 hours 23 minutes.

Its only shortcoming was that it wasn't the U.S. Open final, which hasn't seen a three-set women's match since 1995, when Steffi Graf beat Monica Seles.

On Friday, Clijsters, 27, prevailed, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, by playing gritty defense and capitalizing on Williams's double faults at critical junctures to advance to Saturday's final.

She'll face seventh-seeded Vera Zvonareva of Russia, who upset Caroline Wozniacki, the tournament's No. 1 seed and last year's runner-up, 6-4, 6-3, earlier in the day.

It's hardly the marquee matchup CBS executives had in mind when they persuaded tournament officials to move the women's final to prime time in 2001. That year, they were rewarded with an all-Williams final, with Venus successfully defending her 2000 title against younger sister Serena, and a 51 percent jump in TV ratings.

This year's U.S. Open took a major hit in star-wattage when Serena, the world's No. 1 player, withdrew to fully recover from foot surgery she underwent in July.

Venus's prospects were in doubt from the start, given that she hadn't competed in two months after taking an extended break following her fourth-round exit at Wimbledon to rest her chronically ailing left knee.

She did remarkably well to reach the tournament's semifinals-without losing a set, no less. But after a strong start against Clijsters on yet another day of gusting winds, Williams lost her bearings on her serve and double-faulted twice in a calamitous second-set tiebreak.

Afterward, she conceded that the pressure of the tiebreak was a factor, as was the wind and her hiatus from competition this summer.

"Obviously I didn't have as much time to train as many of the others," said Williams, who committed 50 unforced errors to Clijsters's 43. "I started out really slow, just an hour a day. I had a good 10 days of practice before this event. I just wish I could have played the bigger points a little better."

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