KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – "I don't ever feel like it's not my day. I don't think that way." Venus Williams was defiant, but the score on this occasion did not lie.
Kim Clijsters, continuing her remarkable comeback, won the Sony Ericsson Open 6-2, 6-1 here Saturday in under an hour, leaving plenty of time for people to go off and bask in glorious Florida sunshine.
Williams did not seem to be at her best even before she had additional tape attached to an already heavily strapped left knee at the first changeover. And then there was the heavy strapping on the right thigh. All in all, despite the resplendent red dress, it left Venus looking a bit like a mummy.
But no, that can't be right. It's Kim who's the mummy. She was also the dominant player on court from first ball to last. There were no walk-abouts from the Belgian today. She was concentrating furiously so as to not let her focus slip as it had done with near fatal consequences against Justine Henin in the semifinal.
"That's something I was really trying to focus on, not to give her easy mistakes -- like in Justine's match when I let her back in," Clijsters said. "In the beginning I have to say I was a little bit worried with the serves that she was hitting at me. The pace was very high. If she had been serving like that the whole match, it would have been tough to break her."
But it wasn't because as Venus admitted, "I did start missing more first serves in the second set, which didn't help my cause."
Venus is never going to offer excuses and brushed off numerous questions about her injuries with lines like, "I just needed more support in this leg today." And the other one? No, forget it. She's not going to admit to hurting. But she will be harsh on herself when analyzing a match.
"Maybe I should have gone for a little less," she said. "Even when I was down I was still going for my shots. Maybe that wasn't the exact right mentality today. She played really consistently. Maybe she didn't play a lot of winners but she did try to force an error. So it was smart."
Players on the women's circuit are allowed to call for a nominated coach to come down and talk to them once during a set. Big Daddy Richard was sitting up there in the stands and he's been Venus' coach since she was born. She could even have nominated sister Serena. Did she contemplate getting help. "No," she said, returning to defiant mode. "It has to come from within me. Just has to come from within."
This, of course, was a triumph for Clijsters, who has a quite remarkable return to the tour. Since July she has won two of the biggest tournaments in the world, the U.S. Open and now Key Biscayne, which is generally regarded as the most prestigious of the top tier events after the Slams. And she seems to be coping very well with the demands of having a child on tour with her.
"The balance is extremely important," she said. "Obviously you don't have everything under your control. I mean, with rain delays and everything it's not always easy. But I feel the balance is good. Obviously there's days when, if Jada is a little sick or something, I want to stay with her. But I also know I need to go to practice because I need to work on things. So those are situations that sometimes can be a little frustrating. But she's a little older now and she knows that when I'm leaving that I'm going out to play tennis. We try and involve her in as many things as possible."
But does she want her daughter to become a tennis player? "I'm not the type of mother who is going to say, 'Let's go practice your forehand today.' That's not me. If she wants to do it and if she thinks it's fun, great."
Mom got a big kiss from Jada after winning the title. There will be many more along the way if Kim goes on playing like this.
Note: By the time Venus made a final forehand error, the match had lasted just 58 minutes. For history buffs who enjoy this kind of stuff, that was exactly the time it took Rod Laver to beat Tony Roche in the final of the first Open Wimbledon in 1968. They didn't sit down at changeovers, of course, but nonetheless, it was best of five sets. They just played faster in those days.