Aug. 16 • A year ago, Kim Clijsters made an electric return to professional tennis in Cincinnati, winning three matches before losing in the quarterfinals. This week she returned to the $2,000,000 tournament and went all the way to the title, beating fellow former No.1 Maria Sharapova in a nail-biting final, saving three match points to claim the trophy, 2-6 7-6(4) 6-2.
After a slew of upsets in the early rounds, Clijsters, the No.4 seed, was a firm favorite for the title from the quarterfinals on. She didn't lose a set until the final, where her toughest challenger - Maria Sharapova, the No.10 seed but like Clijsters a former No.1 and multiple Grand Slam winner, awaited. Sharapova had also won their last three meetings, and all in straight sets, too.
And the trend resumed. Sharapova powered through the first set and built a 5-3 lead in the second, holding three match points there - but a rain delay may have halted her winning momentum, as Clijsters was right back in the match upon resumption, battling back to push the set to a tie-break then battling back from 0-3 there, taking the match to a third set and cruising to victory.
"I was so close to losing and then this dark cloud came", said Clijsters, who finished the match off with a big running forehand down the line. "I thought I was hitting well from the baseline with her but my serve wasn't working well. During the delay I had to regroup and refocus, and when we came back to the court I played aggressively and turned it around. I'm really happy to win."
Clijsters became the first player to win three titles this year, already winning Brisbane and Miami. She improved to 4-0 in finals since coming back last summer, taking the US Open last year. She is now 38-17 in career finals.
Sharapova was in her Tour-leading fifth final of the year and is now 2-3 in those, winning Memphis and Strasbourg but a runner-up in Birmingham (to Li Na), Stanford (to Vika Azarenka) and now here. She is now 22-11 in career finals.
"I had a wonderful week. It was my first week here and I had a wonderful welcome from all the fans and tournament", Sharapova said at the trophy ceremony. "Congratulations to Kim on a great match and great tournament, I look forward to playing her again soon. I'll definitely be back next year."