Mon, Sep 12, 2005 - Page 20 News List

Clijsters eases to Open title

WOMEN'S FINAL Kim Clijsters of Belgium won her first Grand Slam and the richest payday in women's sports


After coming up short in her first four attempts, Kim Clijsters finally won her first major title in cruising to a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Mary Pierce at the US Open on Saturday.

When she hit a service winner on the second championship point, Clijsters dropped her racket and covered her mouth with her hands.

"It's still very hard to believe," said Clijsters, who won US$2.2 million, double the top prize and the richest payday in women's sports, because she won the US Open Series leading up to the tournament. "It's an amazing feeling to have, especially after being out for so long last year. It means so much more."

She hugged Pierce at the net and then rushed to the side of the court, climbing over a photographer's pit and through the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach her family. She scaled a wall and inched along a rail as if it were a tightrope -- maybe her toughest task of the night -- before she reached her family.

Crying, she hugged her mother and sister.

"I didn't want to be standing out there by myself after the game. As soon as I looked over to them, I wanted to hug them," Clijsters said. "I decided to run up there. I didn't know where I was going or what I was doing. Luckily, I made it back safe."

It was the second straight shellacking Pierce has taken in a Grand Slam final. Justine Henin-Hardenne needed only 61 minutes to wallop her 6-1, 6-1 at the French Open, prompting a tearful Pierce to apologize to the fans of her home country.

She stretched this final a few minutes longer -- but she needed a bathroom break after the first set to do it.

"Before this match, I felt really good," said Pierce, a two-time Grand Slam winner who has resurrected her career at 30. "I was ready for it. I was looking forward to it. I wanted it. But today was definitely not my day."

It was the 10th straight year the championship was won in straight sets, and was the most lopsided final since Martina Hingis beat Venus Williams 6-0, 6-4 in 1997.

The victory splits the Grand Slam titles between Belgians and the Williams family. Henin-Hardenne won the French, Serena Williams took the Australian Open and Venus Williams was the Wimbledon champion.

There's never been any doubt about Clijsters' talent. She's a former No. 1 who arrived at the Open with 27 career titles -- six this year alone. But she'd never won any of the four majors. She reached the final at the French and US opens in 2003, as well as the Australian in 2004, and each time she fell short against Henin-Hardenne. She also lost to Jennifer Capriati in the 2001 French Open.

Men's semifinals

Defying age and heat, marathon man Andre Agassi outlasted buffer, younger baseliner Robby Ginepri in five sets at the US Open and become the oldest Grand Slam finalist in 31 years on Saturday.

Agassi delivered an exclamation point to the 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 triumph with a 193kph ace, his 17th of the match, on his last serve, shook hands with Ginepri, then skipped as spryly as a child on the court to blow kisses and bow to 23,582 fans in packed Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"Oh, how do you find words for what this means? This has been some of the greatest memories I've ever had on the court," Agassi said. "I'll have these memories the rest of my life. Being in the finals at 35 just means you're going to have to put up with me a lot longer."

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