There's no question Venus Williams's loss to fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters in Wednesday morning's wee hours represents a blow to the U.S. Open. In falling to Clijsters, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, Williams followed younger sister Serena out the door and ensured that for the third consecutive year the U.S. Open won't have a Williams sister to showcase on the final weekend.
While Clijsters may not generate the buzz of the Williams sisters or command the same TV audience on American shores, she's considered the most talented woman who has yet to win a Grand Slam event, as well as one of the more likable players on tour. And that has made her a popular choice to win here.
Patrick McEnroe has picked the 22-year-old Clijsters to win the tournament. As a frequent TV commentator, he covered much of the summer hard-court season, which Clijsters dominated, winning three titles (bringing her total to six this season) and clinching the U.S. Open Series.
Four-time U.S. Open champion Martina Navratilova hopes the Belgian does it.
"She's definitely the sentimental favorite for the fans, for the media and for the locker room," Navratilova said. "I would love to see her win the whole thing. She's playing great tennis. I think she believe now she can do it. She's got the goods. She's had the best summer of anybody, and she's healthy."
Clijsters was ranked No. 1 in the world in 2003 and has advanced to four Grand Slam event finals. But her career has been largely overshadowed by compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne, who has proven grittier in big matches. But Clijsters's comeback against Williams in a quarterfinal that began Tuesday and ended at 12:36 a.m. Wednesday may have marked a turning point.
Williams ran away with the first set and was within two games of closing the match, serving at 4-2, when Clijsters dug in with tough defense. By the third set, Williams was visibly winded, and her shots sprayed wildly. Clijsters felt fit, and she rolled through the final set, breaking Williams's vaunted serve with ease.
While Williams said she was bothered by a sore right hip, she placed most of the blame for her loss on Clijsters.
"She started playing really bad, and it totally threw me off," Williams said. "She started hitting these really weird shots and short balls and, like, just weird stuff. Next thing I knew I was playing as bad as she was."
Blake, Ginepri on Davis Cup Team
James Blake and Robby Ginepri were named Wednesday to the U.S. Davis Cup team that will face Belgium in a World Group playoff match in Leuven, Belgium, Sept. 23-25, joining Andy Roddick and doubles specialists Bob and Mike Bryan on the squad. U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said he'll decide closer to the playoff whether Blake or Ginepri would join Roddick in singles play.