Venus Wins Billie Jean Cup
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
With the crowd of over 11,700 in Madison Square Garden solidly on her side, Williams defeated Kim Clijsters 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to win her first Cup in a top-quality final.
Williams entered the event having won titles in back-to-back weeks in Dubai and Acapulco and carried her great play into the Garden. The crowd was treated to top quality match between two former world No. 1 as Clijsters rallied from a break down in the second set to force a third.
Clijsters was then up a break in the third but Williams kept fighting, breaking back to go to 4-all and then in the final game to take the set and match 7-5.
“This is the crowning of it all,” Williams said of her title streak. “This year (at the Showdown) I was able to take it a step farther (and win the title) against such a great opponent. Kim really played well. At one point (in the second set), I realized I lost five games in a row. I had to regain my focus and stay in there.”
The unique format of the event featured two one-set, no-ad scoring semifinals first between Clijsters and Ana Ivanovic and then between Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova. In the first semifinal, Clijsters came from behind to defeat Ivanovic 7-6 (2) and then Williams defeated Kuznetsova 6-4 to reach the final.
The great Billie Jean King, was unable to attend the event, however, as she recovers from a double knee replacement a few weeks ago.
For Clijsters, this was her first time playing in Madison Square Garden since the season-ending Tour Championships back in 2000 as a 17-year-old. Now 26 and mother of two-year-old daughter Jada with two US Open titles, the experience was even better.
“It is very special (playing in the Garden),” she said. “I am a little older, I am able to enjoy it more. It was honor to play in front of (this crowd) and in this arena. I had a blast, even though I lost. Venus is a tough opponent and such a great athlete. No matter if you are up or down, you have to keep fighting. It is for these kinds of matches that you train hard.”
“I took some time to try to find an aggressive game and really look for my position and move well,” Clijsters added. “I got better as the match went on. Venus was hitting hard, deep and moving well. (I thought) her strongest weapon was her serve.”
Serena Williams, the 2009 champion, was originally part of the event but was forced to withdraw with a leg injury. Ivanovic, who was in last year’s competition, happily replaced her and in her match against Clijsters, show some improvements in her game from working with new coach Heinz Gunthardt.
“It was really good match I thought. I had my opportunities definitely,” Ivanovic said of the semifinal. “I feel better on the court; I am striking the ball well. Today on the court, (it felt good) being aggressive again and swinging a lot freer….I am very excited, I see things I have to work on and I am very keen on getting them better.”
Kuznetsova was happy to have had the experience of playing in Madison Square Garden.
“I think it is a great experience for me,” she said. “Definitely, you would like for it to last a little bit longer because one set is very difficult to play. It was fun. The match was close and I enjoyed the experience.”
And besides Williams, there was another winner on the night: the game of tennis. All levels of the game were celebrated Monday night from the community levels to future stars to today’s top players to retired greats.
The Showdown anchored Tennis Night in America, which also included over 700 Youth Registration events the USTA and local facilities hosted across the country from Feb. 26-March 1 to sign up kids for spring and summer tennis programs and get them more involved with the sport.
It was the perfect platform of today’s professional stars competing in the World’s Most Famous Arena and on national television to hopefully inspire many young kids to want to play or keeping playing tennis.
The tennis for the night began with an short exhibition futures match between two up-and-coming American players, Sachia Vickery and Nicole Gibbs, which Vickery won 4-3.
Between the Williams-Kuznetsova semifinal and the final, a special on-court ceremony celebrated the 2010 Tennis Hall of Fame inductees. This year’s Hall of Fame class are doubles legends Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva along with Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in the recent player category; Owen Davidson in the Master player category and in the contributor category, Brad Parks, the founder of wheelchair tennis, will be the first ever wheelchair tennis inductee. Derek Hardwick will also be inducted posthumously.
On hand for the ceremony were USTA Chairman of the Board and President Lucy Garvin was on hand for the ceremony along with a group of tennis greats, including John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Tony Trabert to celebrate the class of 2010’s achievements.
Also among the night’s events, the USTA Eastern section hosted a ‘Girls Night Out 2010’ event where a group of top ranked junior players from each division in the section were invited to hear a successful group of women talk about both athletic and life skills as women. Stacey Allister, the CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour; former WTA star and U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez; Olympic silver medal winning figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and Ilana Kloss, CEO of World TeamTennis all discussed their varying experiences in sports and how it related to various aspects of their lives with former WTA star Katrina Adams as the host.
From self-esteem to confidence to motivation and support, the group of successful women athletes offered much advice for the group of young tennis players, who could one day end up playing in the arena.
And for the professionals competing in the arena on this night, it was a special experience and hope to return in years to come.
“I wanted to give the crowd the best match I could,” Williams said of the final. “I wanted to give 100 percent. I think (this event) got better (from last year). It is building momentum and I think it will just get better and better.”
Photo courtesy of Venus Williams website.