Bryan Armen Graham
Wednesday September 8th, 2010

Kim Clijsters

Two-time U.S. Open champ Kim Clijsters (above) overcame 43 unforced errors and eight double-faults in a quarterfinal victory over Samantha Stosur. (AP)

By the time Kim Clijsters served at 3-3 in the third set of Tuesday’s quarterfinal clash with Samantha Stosur, the match had devolved into chaos. Nine of the previous 10 games had been service breaks, with tricky winds in Arthur Ashe Stadium keeping either player from establishing any sense of rhythm. The second-seeded Clijsters and fifth-seeded Stosur found themselves in the opposite of a staring contest: It wasn’t a matter of who would blink first, rather a case of who could keep her focus long enough to hold serve and escape with the victory.

With her 18-match winning streak at the U.S. Open in jeopardy, Clijsters held serve at love to go up 4-3. But Stosur couldn’t keep pace, double-faulting at 30-40 to give her opponent an opportunity to serve for the match. Minutes later, the 27-year-old Belgian blasted an ace on match point and booked a date in Thursday's semifinals with Venus Williams, who beat Francesca Schiavone earlier in the evening.

Afterward, Clijsters almost sounded apologetic. “Even after the match,” she said, “I was like, ‘Wow, what just happened? How did I win?’”

Good question. Clijsters finished with 43 unforced errors and eight double-faults. Fortunately, she wasn't nearly the most vulnerable player on court. Stosur lost more service games (eight) than she won (seven), and, by the end, had trouble matching Clijsters' newfound focus. “It was definitely tough conditions, but it’s the same for both of us,” Stosur said.

Clijsters, who won U.S. Open titles on either side of her 27-month retirement (in 2005 and '09), will need a more consistent effort if she expects to keep her unbeaten streak alive Thursday against Venus. She said she's been concerned with her serve for several weeks, a problem evident by her reluctance to go for broke on first attempts against Stosur. "It's been frustrating," she said. "My serve kind of goes off. When I play players who play aggressively, I tend to not finish off my service motion properly.”

Foreboding as that may sound, the defending champ preferred to emphasize the positive. "I'm just going to try and remember the last serve I hit today," said Clijsters of her match-winning ace. "[I'll] just try and focus on that one."

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