Tonight in Miami, 14th seed Kim Clijsters and wild card Justine Henin played the second semifinal match of the day, but you could just as well refer to it as 2 1/2 hours of relentless agony, interrupted by tennis. We learned some things from this match, specifically: 1. Henin's resolve to be more aggressive can be kept in check by the right opponent, 2. Henin needs to keep working on her serve, and 3. Clijsters is just as prone to go all Goolagong in this career as she was in her first one.
Clijsters took control early in the match, pinning Henin to the baseline, hitting repeatedly to her backhand, and using her serve and forehand effectively to get a 6-2 win in just half an hour. She then went up 3-0 in the second set, and had a chance to break Henin and go up 4-0...and then it happened--that thing Clijsters does. She just went away. In the fifth game, she double-faulted three times, and before you could say "Kim won the match in straight sets," it was 3-all. Clijsters pulled herself together by mid-set, and again, it looked as though there was likely to be a straight set victory. But by this time, Henin's confidence had increased, and she was a little more steady. She broke Clijsters at 5-all, and when she served for the set, she saved two break points. Clijsters saved a set point, however, and got a break point when Henin double-faulted. She then converted that break point, forcing a tiebreak.
Henin went up 5-1 in the tiebreak, as Clijsters--looking as tight as she had the entire match--couldn't seem to do anything right. Henin went on to win that tiebreak 7-3, then went up 2-0 right away in the third set. But if you thought Henin was going to run away with the momentum, you needed to think again. Clijsters broke her back, and then--at 2-all--Clijsters broke Henin at love. When Henin served at 2-4, Clijsters had another break point, but could not convert it; instead, she was broken back, and it was 4-all.
The players then exchanged breaks, and Clijsters, serving at 5-6, 40-30, double-faulted again. But--for the first time in the match--she successfully scooped a volley from her feet to create an ad point. There was a second deuce, then Clijsters held.
In the second tiebreak, despite going down an early mini-break, Clijsters looked great, but failed to convert three match points at 6-3. She converted on her fourth match point, however, on Henin's serve, to win the tiebreak 8-6. The last two shots from Clijsters' racquet were appropriately thrilling--a dribble-over backhand volley and another forehand winner on match point.
Clijsters made 63 unforced errors, and Henin made 44. They double-faulted 18 times between them, and there was a total of 12 breaks. But this was just part of the story. There was also some thrilling shot-making. Clijsters used her backhand-inside-out forehand combination to hit a number of smart winners, and--as always--Henin fought back to the last moment. There were times, in the third set, that she even displayed some of the angles that confounded Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round.
But the real story of this match is that Kim Clijsters was winning it handily and then went to pieces. As a rule, a player who does that when Justine Henin is on the other side of the net is a player on her way to the next stop. But Clijsters, to her credit, fought as hard as Henin, and--when it mattered the most--she put the recent past behind her and won the hard way.
There was, of course, another semifinal match played today. 3rd seed Venus Williams, with considerably less drama, defeated 13th seed Marion Bartoli 6-3, 6-4. Bartoli's second serve was nowhere to be found, and she was broken four times.
Williams and Clijsters will compete in the final on Saturday.