NEW YORK – She came to New York rusty, injured and, by tennis standards, aging.
She'll leave after another nice run at a Grand Slam title, though nice runs are not ever what Venus Williams has played for.
Williams fell 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to Kim Clijsters in the semifinals of the U.S. Open on Friday, ending a chance to win her first major championship in more than two years and her first title at Flushing Meadows since 2001.
She is 30 now, seemingly as susceptible to getting injured as becoming disinterested, and the question now becomes, how many more times will tennis fans see her in this position?
The quick answer: Don't file her resume away quite yet.
"I feel like my career hasn't been traditional in any way," said Williams, who has seven major titles to her credit. "I feel like as long as I'm striking the ball well, I'm going to keep playing. At this point, I'm striking the ball well, so there is no end in sight at the moment."
It was a testament to her skill and athletic ability that she got this far in this tournament on so little practice. She sprained her left kneecap over the summer and spent most of it on the sideline, only starting practice in earnest about 10 days before arriving in New York.
In many ways, No. 3 Williams put in her best performance of the tournament against No. 2 Clijsters — the defending champion and, by far, her toughest opponent — even though she committed 50 unforced errors, many of them induced by whipping winds that have turned the last six days in Arthur Ashe Stadium into something other than traditional tennis.
Trailing by a break in the third set, Williams hit two shots that define the kind of player she is. The first, a lunge toward her left at what should've been a clean winner by Clijsters that instead she lobbed back by hitting a left-handed forehand. Clijsters wasn't ready for that and dumped the next shot into the net.
A bit later, Williams lunged to hit a one-handed backhand — not normally her style — off a well-placed Clijsters serve en route to a break that leveled the final set at 4-4.
From there, though, Clijsters took over, flustering Williams with a pair of lobs against the wind to take the lead, then serving out the match to put her one win away from another championship.
Clijsters is trying to become the first woman to repeat here since Williams did it in 2000-01. The Belgian will meet No. 7 Vera Zvonareva in Saturday's final. Zvonareva pulled a 6-4, 6-3 upset over No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki to reach her second straight Grand Slam final.
"It's not that she has a game that's very unpredictable," Clijsters said of her upcoming opponent. "But what she does, she does extremely well. It's going to be a lot different match than it was today."
Different because Williams can be unpredictable — powerful yet mistake-prone, a player who can string together stretches of unparalleled brilliance and seeming indifference, sometimes all in the same game.
Did she prove anything by making a run deep into the tournament despite her injury and limited practice?
"Have I proved anything? I'm not sure," she said. "I mean, I've done so many things in my career that I'm proud of, and I feel like I've built character for myself on and off the court."
Off the court, there's her entrepreneurial side. She has an interior design company, owns part of the Miami Dolphins along with her sister, Serena, and also has an eye for fashion. (Though she decided not to wear the sixth version of her specially designed U.S. Open dress Friday because she didn't like the way it looked.)
On the court — well, we've seen that play out, dating back to the late 1990s, when she exploded onto to the tennis scene, taught by her father on a court in Compton, her beaded hair clacking with every step, her supersized game ushering in seismic change in the sport that's still being felt today.
"Obviously I would have liked to win this match and be playing tomorrow," Williams said. "But, you know, I may have lost this match, but that's just this match. There will be others."