- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

NEW YORK | Kim Clijsters’ return to tennis started out as a simple, heartwarming tale.

The story just got a lot more interesting.

After opponent Serena Williams was called for a foot fault to create match point and then was ousted after berating the lineswoman, the new mom continued her unexpected run through the U.S. Open and is now a win from the title. Clijsters will face 19-year-old Caroline Wozniacki, a straight-sets winner against Yanina Wickmeyer.

Serving down 6-5 and 30-15, Williams was called for a foot fault on her second serve, then turned incredulously to the lineswoman, yelling and pointing her racket. The lineswoman then claimed Williams threatened her and used profanity, so officials handed Williams a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Since Williams had been warned for banging her racket earlier in the match, the code violation resulted in a point penalty and the end of the match. The final score Saturday night was 6-4, 7-5.

“All year I’ve never been foot-faulted, and then suddenly in this tournament they keep calling foot faults,” said Williams, who insisted she never threatened the lineswoman. “I’m not going to sit here and make an excuse. If I foot-faulted, I did.”

Added Clijsters: “It’s unfortunate that a match that I was playing so well had to end that way. I’m still confused about what happened out there.”

Regardless, Clijsters was the steadier of the players despite having barely picked up a racket in the past two years. She had 18 unforced errors against Williams’ 32 and converted four of 11 break-point chances.

Six months ago, Clijsters was at home with a new baby girl, so a return to tennis was hardly expected. But an invitation to play an exhibition at Wimbledon led to some workouts, which led to thoughts of a comeback, which led to a return to the court this summer.

Clijsters beat several seeded players en route to the semifinals, including No. 14 Marion Bartoli, No. 3 Venus Williams and No. 18 Na Li. But few gave her a chance against Serena Williams, the most dominant player on the women’s tour and the champion at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

“I never really expected to be beating Venus and beating Serena,” Clijsters said. “You try and bring your best tennis, but you don’t expect things to be going this well this soon.”

Clijsters matched Williams point for point from the baseline and was opportunistic in winning 68 percent of points against Williams’ second serve.

“I think Kim played really well, and I think she came out with a really big plan,” Williams said. “I think it’s really good to have her back on tour. Maybe we can get together and have some calming lessons.”

Wozniacki’s run to the final was also unexpected. The ninth-seeded Dane, who won 6-3, 6-3 on Saturday, benefited from attrition in the women’s draw but also pulled off a nice upset of sixth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova and overcame a partisan crowd in beating upstart American Melanie Oudin in the quarterfinals.

The women’s semifinals almost didn’t happen; rain fell in Flushing Meadows for most of the day. The only match played during the afternoon session was the men’s quarterfinal match between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Gonzalez, a rain-suspended contest that started Thursday evening. Nadal finished off Gonzalez 7-6, 7-6, 6-0.

Nadal entered Saturday’s action having won the first set and holding a 3-2 lead in a second-set tiebreaker. With Gonzalez appearing lethargic, Nadal took the tiebreak and blitzed through the third set without dropping a game.

The speed of the victory was not only good for the tournament schedule but for Nadal; he is unlikely to be fatigued heading to the semifinal match against Juan Martin del Potro, who last played Wednesday.

“For me, the match of today wasn’t important physically, no?” Nadal said. “That doesn’t matter, to play two days in a row.”

Nadal is seeking his first U.S. Open championship and a career Grand Slam with titles at all four major tournaments. He holds a 4-2 career record against del Potro but has lost the past two times they’ve played.

“I think he is a very complete player, no?” Nadal said. “In the past he didn’t serve like he is serving now. From the baseline, he is very solid. He [doesn’t] make mistakes.”

The completion of that match had tournament officials breathing a sigh of relief. A failure to finish likely would have pushed the men’s final to Tuesday.

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