NEW YORK – Kim Clijsters made history Sunday night, capping a comeback from two years out of tennis to become the first unseeded woman to win the Open — and the first mother to win a major since 1980 — with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki.
When it was over, Clijsters collapsed to the ground and started crying — tears of joy, probably mixed in with a little bit of shock, too. Her 18-month-old daughter, Jada, watched from a suite at the court, but later came down to take part in the celebration.
Clijsters cradled the baby in one hand, the trophy in the other: The joy of motherhood. The joy of winning the U.S. Open.
"It was not really our plan," Clijsters said. "I just wanted to start these three tournaments and get back into the rhythm of playing tennis and get used to the surroundings again."
It was all quite a different scene from the night before, when Clijsters' semifinal win over Serena Williams was decided on a point penalty, and the 26-year-old Belgian stood behind the baseline, looking bewildered as Williams ran over to shake her hand.
Williams' tirade may have been the talk of the U.S. Open. But Clijsters was the winner. This was her second U.S. Open title, the last coming in 2005 — her last appearance at Flushing Meadows and before a spate of nagging injuries eventually drove her out of the sport.
Clijsters beat both Williams sisters and two other players seeded in the teens. She matched Venus and Serena power shot for power shot and showed she could play Wozniacki's patient game — and play it better.
This match was nothing like the Williams match — before it turned sour — which was filled with short, hard-hitting rallies in which Clijsters moved one of tennis' best players at will and made her hit shots from places she normally doesn't.
Instead, it was a waiting game, and when Clijsters fell behind 4-2 in the first set, she showed she was willing to play it.
Clijsters finished with two more winners than unforced errors (36-34) — a good ratio on any day — and 26 more winners than Wozniacki.
After getting back on serve, Clijsters held off two break points at 5-5, then broke Wozniacki for the fourth time to win the first set. The second set was easier and before they knew it, Jada was on the court posing for photographers.
Clijsters didn't even have a ranking coming into this tournament because she hadn't played enough matches to get on the list. She'll come in at around No. 20 when the new rankings come out this week, but probably won't try to improve on that right away.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world being a mother," she said. "I just can't wait to spend next the few weeks with her and have her routine schedule at home again."
Her victory came over the first Danish player to reach a Grand Slam final, though Wozniacki's greater claim to fame is that she's won more matches on tour this year than anyone.
She played like a winner over two weeks in Flushing Meadows, including that 6-2, 6-2 victory that ended the magical run of 17-year-old Melanie Oudin, whose rapid rise was the story of the tournament for the first 10 days.
Oudin left, then the Williams imbroglio took over.
Clijsters made her headlines, too. The mother-on-a-comeback story was a winner all the way.