A wry smile appeared, for just a moment, on Vera Zvonareva's face when Kim Clijsters double-faulted at 6-2, 5-1, 30-all in the U.S. Open women's final tonight. Break points had eluded the Russian throughout the match, and now she had one, and at such a strange point in the proceedings. Clijsters responded with an ace, and won the championship on her first match point.
It was a masterful performance by the defending champion, who showed off not only her signature movement and solid groundstrokes, but also a tidy and beautifully placed serve. Zvonareva was barely allowed into the match, so decisively did Clijsters dictate the rallies. In short, Clijsters could hardly do anything wrong, and Zvonareva could hardly do anything right. And when Zvonareva did have opportunities, she was unable to gather enough composure to take advantage of them.
The match was over in exactly an hour. There hasn't been a three-set women's final at the U.S. Open since 1995, when Steffi Graf lost all the games in the second set, but still still won the championship, defeating Monica Seles. The best recent final was played in 2008, when Serena Williams won a spirited and entertaining two-setter over Jelena Jankovic.
Clijsters lost the 2003 U.S. Open final in straight sets to Justine Henin. She won in 2005, when she defeated Mary Pierce; Pierce won only four games. Clijsters was injured in 2006, and did not compete. She then retired from the tour, so she was absent in 2007 and 2008. After she returned in 2009, the U.S. Open was just her third event, but she defeated Caroline Wozniacki and took the title again. She has now won 21 straight matches in Flushing Meadows.
Zvonareva managed to get one good racquet-crack in during the short match. When the final was over, she told her opponent how frustrated she felt because she had not played well. Clijsters reminded her of all the finals she had lost to Henin, and said that, afterwards, she, too, felt frustrated because she knew she could have played better.
This was Zvonareva's second major final. Earlier in the season, she lost the Wimbledon final to Serena Williams. That, too, was a match in which she was totally dominated. Zvonareva--whose career has been repeatedly interrupted by serious injury--has a solid and varied game, and has become mentally stronger than she used to be. But in tonight's match, she made a stream of unforced errors that took her out of the competition. The woman who had looked so steady against Caroline Wozniacki suddenly looked so tentative and confused against Clijsters.