FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. – Kim Clijsters tried to hand the trophy to her daughter, Jada, but she wouldn’t take it. No matter how hard she tried, the wispy-haired two-year-old wasn’t having any part of it.
It was only fitting. It belonged to her mom, after all. She had earned it.
The second-career Belgian, ranked No. 3, extended her U.S. Open winning streak to 21 consecutive matches on Saturday night in Ashe Stadium, overwhelming Russia’s Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 in a one-sided 59-minute final to win her second straight U.S. Open title.
Clijsters, who has now won all five finals she’s played since returning to the game in August 2009 after a 27-month layoff, had won five of seven matches against Zvonareva coming in. But the Russian had claimed their last two meetings, including Wimbledon, where Zvonareva edged Clijsters in a three-set quarterfinal 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
“Wimbledon was to me one of the most disappointing losses that I’ve dealt with so far in my career,” said Clijsters, who converted four of five break points against Zvonareva on Saturday. “In a way, I was excited to play her in the final here just to try to get that revenge.”
Both players had struggled with their serves in New York. They had been broken a combined 33 times. So it wasn’t necessarily alarming when Zvonareva coughed up a break in the sixth game of the first set to fall behind 4-2, misfiring on a backhand that sailed long. Down 5-2, the 26-year-old Muscovite was serving to stay in the set when she dumped a backhand into the net and was broken at love. The set was over in just 27 minutes.
That’s when the Wimbledon finalist’s emotions began to surface. Down 3-0 in the second set and unable to chase down a stretch backhand, she smacked her racket repeatedly against the court, as if trying to spark some inner fire.
“When I cracked my racket, I was like, ‘Come on.’ Why can’t you just — the ball is just two steps away,” she said. “I was able to get this ball in previous matches, and right now I’m just so slow, cannot move. I just need to get some energy from something. You just let the emotions out. But I was still a bit slower. I was physically not fast enough. With Kim, you have to be fast. You have to play fast. You have to move quick.
The demons had clearly surfaced, and the player who had advanced to the final without dropping a set, soon fell in her second straight Grand Slam final appearance.
Last year, fans delighted in the sheer joy and glee of young Jada Clijsters Lynch, who, after her mom won the U.S. Open, playfully gazed at her image on the huge overhead screen above Ashe Stadium. Rarely have we shared in such a moment of outright glee.
But this year was different.
Now somehow aware of her role in a media world, Jada was far more cautionary, as her mom once again hoisted the U.S. Open trophy. When Clijsters attempted to replicate last year’s moment of wonder in front of a bevy of photographers, Jada froze. Kim moved in for the cuddly photo op, but she retreated. When her mom wisely sat her down on a courtside seat, the TV cameras approached and, incredibly, young Jada said, “No photo, no photo.”
“She’s still young,” said Clijsters. “I don’t think to her it matters too much whether I win or lose. It’s nice to have her part of it, but I don’t think it matters at all. She knows that a trophy is part of winning. So she kind of connects the dots like that. But I’m not going to tell her, ‘Mommy won the U.S. Open.’”
Once inside Ashe Stadium, away from all the glare, Jada was again just a child. She romped up and down the corridors in her blue jeans and purple top with a security guard in tow. She delighted in playing London Bridge with strangers. Then, in a cross-generational moment of wonder, Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova approached, saying, “Hi, Jada. Where’s mommy? On court?”
Jada pointed to a nearby photo of Serena Williams, upon which Navratilova playfully said, “She didn’t even show up this year, she was so afraid of your mommy.”
A sweet moment after a sweet win.