WITH the silver trophy tucked under one arm and cradling her daughter Jada in the other, Kim Clijsters provided a huge lift for working mothers around the world as she was crowned US Open champion on Sunday.
Never before had a curly haired, blonde, 18-month-old toddler stolen the show on Arthur Ashe Stadium but this was no ordinary day at Flushing Meadows.
It was a day when Belgian wildcard Clijsters beat Danish teenager Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 6-3 to become the first mother to win a Grand Slam title since Evonne Goolagong achieved the feat almost three decades ago — at Wimbledon in 1980.
“We tried to plan her nap-time a little bit later so she could be here today. It’s the greatest feeling in the world, being a mother,” a glassy-eyed Clijsters told the cheering crowd after her heart-tugging comeback win at the hardcourt major.
Wozniacki, who was trying to become the first Danish woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, said: “She’s such a great girl. Unfortunately she beat me today. She played a great match and deserved this trophy.”
A journey that began with the Belgian taking baby steps back into top flight tennis only last month — following a two-year sabbatical — came full circle in just 35 days as she claimed her second US Open prize.
“Amazing. For her to have this incredible run is fantastic. This is a great story for women’s tennis, that’s for sure,“ said Roger Federer, who as the new father of twins will try to prove that dads too can rule the world when he takes on Juan Martin del Potro in the men’s final on Monday.
World number one Federer relied on a touch of magic to make sure he was still on target to set a modern era record of winning six successive Open titles.
The Swiss top seed, with his back turned to the net, conjured an eye-catching crosscourt winner from between his legs to bring up match point as he beat Novak Djokovic 7-6, 7-5, 7-5.
“That’s unbelievable. It was the greatest shot I ever hit in my life,” Federer said in a courtside interview as he watched a replay of the point on the giant screen on Ashe Stadium.
Del Potro pulled off the greatest win of his life when he pummelled Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 to reach his first major final but instantly knew he had turned dream wrecker by denying Flushing Meadows a Federer-Nadal final.
“I’m sorry,” Del Porto told the crowd.
But nothing could ruin Clijsters’ day under the floodlights.
Less than 24 hours after Tweeting “The fairytale goes on” following her semi-final win over Serena Williams, she penned a happy ending to her story.
Having been denied the chance to savour victory on Saturday — when the contest against Williams ended bizarrely as the American was docked a point at match point down — Clijsters made sure no only would steal Sunday’s moment from her.
The contest was not a classic — with fortunes wildly fluctuating in a first set that featured seven breaks — but the tension was still palpable on a windy arena as almost 23,000 fans roared on Clijsters.
Harry Potter fan Wozniacki briefly cast her spell over Clijsters as she leapt to a 4-2 lead in the first set but she quickly ran out of tricks and surrendered the advantage with a double fault in the eighth game.
From them on, it seemed that the 26-year-old Clijsters could not be denied.
At 5-3 in the second set, a driving a forehand into the corner brought up match point.
On the next point, Clijsters narrowed her eyes as she saw the furry yellow ball spin high into the air and raised her right arm to smash the ball on to the other side of the net. Match point over, Clijsters sank to her knees before leaning on to the cement in a foetal position — struggling to believe what she had pulled off.
When she showed her face to the world again, tears were streaming down the face of a woman who completed the successful defence of her title — having also won the trophy here on her last visit to New York in 2005.
She quickly clambered up the stands to kiss her husband Bryan, a moment which set off Jada into a giggling fit as she watched her mum and dad on the big video screen.
“I don’t have words for this. I’m just glad I got to come back and defend my title from 2005. It’s so exciting for me,” said Clijsters, who still does not own a ranking as her comeback is only three-tournaments old.
“I have to thank the USTA for giving me the wildcard to come back here. Just coming back here meant so much to me and seeing how warm everybody welcomed me and embraced me just to be back was a great feeling,” said Clijsters, the first wildcard to win the Open title.
“It definitely helped me to keep fighting and stay focused out there. Especially in the last few matches where the opponents became a lot more tougher.”
No one can accuse Clijsters of having an easy ride at the Open as her road to the final included victories over both Venus and Serena Williams.
Job done and Jada was allowed to join her mother on one of the most famous tennis stages and completed the feel good factor of the past fortnight as she played with the trophy before running helter-skelter on court. — Reuters