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Bizarre ending dethrones Williams

Violation gives Clijsters upset win

By Liz Robbins
New York Times / September 13, 2009

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NEW YORK - Serena Williams, the defending US Open champion, lost her semifinal match to Kim Clijsters in the most shocking and improbable manner last night, stunning the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

When a lineswoman called Williams for a foot fault to set up match point for Clijsters, Williams argued spitefully and then berated the judge with profanity. She picked up a second code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct, but she had no points left to give.

Clijsters, 26, making a joyful return to tennis after a two-year retirement, had mostly outplayed Williams to that point, but she never got to play match point. Williams came over to Clijsters and shook her hand as Clijsters, a wild-card entry to start the tournament, advanced to the finals of the Open with a 6-4, 7-5 victory that will almost certainly prove as memorable as it was contentious.

It was the first time Clijsters had reached a Grand Slam final since she won her only Grand Slam tournament - the Open - in 2005. She will face Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3, in the other semifinal.

“I am still in shock,’’ Clijsters said after dispatching the defending champion.

Brian Earley, the tournament director, explained that “she said something to a line umpire, it was reported to the chair and that resulted in a point penalty and it just happened that point penalty was match point,’’ he said.

As the line judge approached the chair umpire and reported what Williams said, Williams responded incredulously on court: “I didn’t say I would kill you, are you serious? I didn’t say that.’’

This rescheduled semifinal was in the original time slot of the women’s final, a prime-time special created eight years ago, in part because of the draw of the Williams sisters. Until the fateful point that decided the match, the action was worthy of a final.

Clijsters, in a mere 35 minutes, had done what no other player had accomplished this tournament: She won a set off Serena Williams.

And with the first-set defeat, Williams threw her racket to the court in disgust. She picked it up and, still angry, slammed it to the court for effect. This time, she mangled the frame.

Her emotions seemed to be as unsettled as the weather as she sprayed 15 unforced errors in that first set.

Clijsters had gotten the early break in the sixth game as Williams, uncharacteristically, served two double faults. But the vintage Serena Williams flashed into existence on the next point, rocketing a crosscourt winner on Clijsters’s 104-mile-per-hour serve.

On the second point of the game, as Williams let a defensive lob fall to the court, the stadium cheered in anticipation: she smashed it so hard it landed in the second row.

From there, she broke back, but Williams still seemed a bit off.

At first, when droplets of rain floated from the sky, Williams seemed bothered by the slippery court. She registered her complaints with the linesman on a changeover.

And after Clijsters first broke her, Williams looked over to her father and coach, Richard, and held out her arms as if to say, “What am I doing?’’

As Williams tried to channel her anger, Clijsters appeared far more relaxed. About two hours earlier, she wore a contented smile on her face as she went to check the court surface during the interminable rain delay.

“Can they make it stop raining?’’ she asked the security guards.

After being away from tennis for 27 months, what were another couple of hours? As Williams had predicted, Clijsters felt no pressure. This was, after all, a night out for Clijsters and her husband, Brian Lynch, the parents of a toddler.

On a soggy Saturday when talk of constructing a roof was all the rage, perhaps it was only appropriate that Clijsters was playing in the night’s semifinal. Were it not for a roof, she might not have returned to tennis.

But in January she was invited to play in an exhibition with Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, and Tim Henman to launch the new roof at Wimbledon. Clijsters figured she had to get back into shape so as not to embarrass herself.

And then she realized how much she missed the game, enjoying the training and the challenge once again.

“Seems like she’s even faster than what she was before,’’ Williams said. “I was thinking that maybe I should have a baby and then I’ll come back faster.’’

Clijsters admitted that she was, indeed, fitter than before, perhaps liberated by not having the same pressure on her as Williams. She knocked off Venus Williams in the Round of 16, marching deep into the tournament, but into territory she had charted.

Over in Louis Armstrong Stadium, the two 19-year-olds could not say the same. Wozniacki may have been ranked No. 8 in the world, and had won three tournaments this season, but she had never reached a Grand Slam semifinal before.

Wickmayer had never advanced past the second round of a Grand Slam tournament before this Open.