By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Defending champion Kim Clijsters raised her game with her back to the wall and took advantage of a tiebreaker meltdown by Venus Williams to score a 4-6 7-6 6-4 victory Friday and reach the U.S. Open final.
Clijsters, who also won the 2005 U.S. Open on her favorite grand slam surface, booked a Saturday night date against seventh-seeded Russian Vera Zvonareva by registering her 20th successive match victory at Flushing Meadows.
Williams overwhelmed Clijsters in the opening set, using a dominant serve and her vaunted volleying skill to take charge. The 30-year-old American, like Clijsters a two-time U.S. Open champion, lost only five points on serve in the set.
The second-seeded Belgian battled back, raising her effort and scurrying across the baseline to reach the American's hard-hit groundstrokes and unleash winners.
"I just tried to make the points and whenever I felt I had the opportunity to step up and accelerate a little bit, I tried to keep the pressure on her," Clijsters, 27, said.
Clijsters and the third-seeded Williams exchanged breaks early in the second set before the Belgian broke in the sixth game to lead 4-2.
Serving for the set at 5-3, it was the Belgian's turn to play a string of loose points that brought it back on serve and set up a tiebreaker.
Williams, who had been so effective from the service line, suddenly lost her way, serving back-to-back double faults and losing every one of her four serves to drop the decider 7-2.
After another exchange of breaks in the third set, Clijsters cracked through the Williams service again for a 5-4 lead, answering a deep volley with a brilliant backhand topspin lob that left the American staggering toward the baseline.
A sizzling backhand winner up the line ended it in the next game for Clijsters, who thrust her arms in the air in triumph.
"I'm glad she made a few double faults in the tiebreaker there," said a relieved Clijsters. "It was a great match to play. Conditions weren't easy but I think we played some high level tennis. It was a fun night."
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)