NEW YORK (AP) — Kim Clijsters is one win from her second straight U.S. Open title after beating Venus Williams in three sets Friday for her 20th straight victory at Flushing Meadows.
Clijsters will play seventh-seeded Vera Zvonareva for the championship Saturday night. Zvonareva reached her second straight Grand Slam final, defeating top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3 earlier Friday.
“Obviously, this is what you try to achieve,” Clijsters said in an on-court interview. “I never expected I’d come back in this position. I was trying to do it. It wasn’t easy but I stuck with it so you can have these moments.”
The second-seeded Clijsters won 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to defeat Williams for the fifth straight time. Clijsters broke Williams with a perfect backhand lob to allow herself to serve out the match.
Clijsters, who also won the tournament in 2005, is seeking to become the first woman since 2001 to successfully defend her U.S. Open title.
The last to do it? Williams. But the 30-year-old American, seeded third, hasn’t been back to the final since 2002.
She lost to Clijsters in the fourth round last year, part of the Belgian’s remarkable run in her third tournament back after a 2 1/2-year layoff.
Clijsters’ final opponent in 2009 was Wozniacki, who was making her first major final appearance. The 20-year-old Dane had been dominant in her run this year — she lost just 17 games in advancing to the semifinals, the fewest since Serena Williams dropped 14 in 2002.
But Zvonareva knocked Wozniacki off rhythm with powerful serves and assertive play, as the wind again made for difficult play at Arthur Ashe Stadium. The seventh-seeded Russian had five aces, and she won 70 percent of points on her first serve and 13 of 17 points at the net.
“It’s the right balance between being patient and being aggressive,” Zvonareva said. “With those windy conditions, you have to play sometimes ugly. You don’t have to expect to play your best tennis.”
Zvonareva rarely seemed flustered by Wozniacki’s knack for returning virtually every shot — and by the strings that kept breaking on her rackets.
“I had five newly strung rackets before the match, and I don’t know what happened,” she said. “In one hour to go through five rackets, it’s quite a lot. But, you know, it happens. I will just have to bring some more rackets tomorrow.”
Wozniacki had an uncharacteristic 31 unforced errors. She had been riding a 13-match winning streak and led the tour with 31 victories on hard courts this year. With top-ranked Serena Williams out with a foot injury, Wozniacki was seeded No. 1 at a Grand Slam for the first time.
“She was not missing a lot,” Wozniacki said. “She was going for her shots. Most things were going in. You know, I had chances, and I made some mistakes today that I usually don’t do.”
Zvonareva, who turned 26 on Tuesday, had never been past the fourth round at the U.S. Open before this year. She lost to Serena Williams 6-3, 6-2 in her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon in July.
After Wozniacki broke back to even the second set at 2-2, Zvonareva quickly won the first three points of the next game on Wozniacki’s serve. She gave herself triple break point when she ran down a shot by Wozniacki that had bounced off the net tape, hitting the ball deep to set up a winning overhead.
After Zvonareva had to change rackets again, Wozniacki hit a forehand into the net to give the Russian a break she wouldn’t relinquish.
Before this year’s Wimbledon, Zvonareva had been to only one major semifinal in her career, at the 2009 Australian Open. Now she’s made two straight finals. Zvonareva hasn’t dropped a set the whole tournament.
She kept her emotions under control Friday, unlike her fourth-round loss last year. It was one of the matches that helped cement her reputation as one of the most temperamental players on tour.
Zvonareva smacked herself upside the head at one point during her three-set loss to 10th-seeded Flavia Pennetta. The Russian, also seeded seventh a year ago, wasted six match points in the second set, falling 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0.
“Tennis is an emotional game,” Zvonareva said Friday. “As long as you know yourself and you know which emotions are good for you, which are bad, you can use it to your advantage.”