Clijsters breezes to title; Federer reaches men's final

Sunday, September 11, 2005

NEW YORK -- Winning a Grand Slam title wasn't so hard for Kim Clijsters, after all.

Clijsters, who came up short her first four tries, finally won her first major title Saturday night, cruising to a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Mary Pierce at the U.S. Open. When she hit a service winner on the second championship point, Clijsters dropped her racket and covered her mouth with her hands.

She hugged Pierce at the net and then rushed to the side of the court, climbing over a photographer's pit and through the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach her family. She scaled a wall and inched along a rail as if it were a tightrope -- maybe the toughest thing she did all night -- before she reached her family.

Crying, she hugged her mom and sister while Pierce watched, disconsolate, from the sidelines.

"It's still very hard to believe," said Clijsters, who won $2.2 million, double the top prize and the richest payday in women's sports, because she won the U.S. Open Series leading up to the tournament. "It's an amazing feeling to have, especially after being out for so long last year. It means so much more."

For Pierce, it's the second straight shellacking she's taken in a Grand Slam final. Justine Henin-Hardenne needed only 61 minutes to wallop her 6-1, 6-1 at the French Open, prompting a tearful Pierce to apologize to the fans.

Men's final

In today's men's final, Andre Agassi, the owner of U.S. Open titles in 1994 and '99, surely will be the underdog against defending champion and top seed Roger Federer, a 6-3, 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-3 victor in three hours on Saturday against 2001 champ Lleyton Hewitt.

Federer overcame five set points in the second set and crushed the disconsolate Hewitt in the tiebreak. The Australian, who fell to Federer for the ninth straight time, had the small consolation of winning a set against him after losing 17 in a row.

Agassi delivered an exclamation point to his 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 triumph with a 120 mph ace, his 17th of the match, on his last serve, shook hands with Robby Ginepri, then bounded happily onto the court to make his trademark kisses and bows to the 23,582 fans giving him an ovation in packed Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"Oh, how do you find words for what this means? This has been some of the greatest memories I've ever had on the court," Agassi said. "I'll have these memories the rest of my life. Being in the finals at 35 just means you're going to have to put up with me a lot longer."

Agassi's wife, Steffi Graf, and children Jaden and Jaz were among those watching him raise his game once again in a fifth set -- the first time in his 20-year career he's had to play three five-setters in a row.

"He's still got it," said the 22-year-old Ginepri. "That's why he's still going at age 35. He still believes that he can compete with anybody."

Agassi is the oldest Grand Slam finalist since Ken Rosewall, at 39, reached the U.S. Open and Wimbledon finals in 1974. Agassi has to hope he doesn't suffer the same fate as Rosewall did in the U.S. Open that year in the final against Jimmy Connors, who beat him 6-1, 6-0, 6-1.

"I expect a tough match," Federer said of playing Agassi, though the Swiss has beaten him in their last seven matches. "He always makes the opponent run. I'm ready to run, defend myself and play aggressive when I have the chance.

"It's Andre. It's more emotional. ... This is one of the biggest matches in my career. I better be playing well."

Federer, who owns five Grand Slam titles and is 22-0 in finals over the past two years, is 44-1 on hard courts this year and 70-3 overall.

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