NEW YORK –Ma Clijsters took another giant step for motherhood Sunday and moved closer to regaining her women’s singles title at the US Open.
Playing in her first Grand Slam tournament since giving birth to her daughter, Kim Clijsters out-gunned Venus Williams 6-0 0-6 6-4 to advance into the quarterfinals of America’s premier tennis event.
“I’m not trying to get carried away with it all,” Clijsters said of her surprising run into the second week of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament. “Just trying to focus on what I have to do because the tournament’s still going. I just want to keep focusing on my tennis without having to worry too much about what’s going on around.”
Two years ago, Clijsters retired from the sport. She got married to an American basketball player and gave birth to their daughter. Earlier this year, she decided she wanted to return to the tennis tour and is playing the US Open for the first time since she captured the title in 2005. She was injured when the 2006 US Open came around, and retired the following year.
This is her third tournament back since retirement, and it’s as if she had never been away. She reached the quarterfinals at Cincinnati and the third round in Toronto, losing in the latter to Jelena Jankovic.
“Although I lost to Jankovic, it really helped me a lot knowing that I was capable of taking her to a 5-3 in that third set,” Clijsters said. “That’s where after Toronto I felt like, OK, I feel at this moment I can compete with those best players. … I had a good feeling that I can have a chance against these girls. That’s something that I didn’t have before I went to Cincinnati.”
She was almost perfect in the opening set against the third-seeded Williams, a two-time US Open champion, but the last title coming in 2001. Williams turned the table in the second set, needing only 23 minutes to run through the six games, allowing Clijsters to win just nine points.
“I just said to myself, OK, forget about what happened this last hour,” Clijsters said. “You start from zero and just make sure that you stay aggressive, keep serving well, and it worked.”
The mother broke Williams in the third game of the final set, then held on to hold her own serve for the rest of the match. In the final game, Williams won three of the first four points before Clijsters, pounding the ball deep into the recesses of the court, won the final four points to grab a spot in the quarterfinals.
Clijsters is trying to become the third mother to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era, after two Australians, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong.
Clijsters will next face 18th-seeded Li Na, a 6-2 6-3 winner over Italy’s Francesca Schiavone. Li is the first Chinese player to reach the quarterfinals at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The other quarterfinal in the bottom of the draw will pit second-seeded Serena Williams against No. 10 Flavia Pennetta of Italy, who staved off six match points before beating No. 7 Vera Zvonareva 3-6 7-6 (6) 6-0.
Williams is 0-6 in her career after losing the first set at love. The last time she lost a 6-0 set at the US Open was in the final in 1997 against Martina Hingis.
Serena Williams began Sunday’s play by crushing Daniela Hantuchova 6-2 6-0, winning the last 10 games of the match.
“I traditionally play well in fourth-round matches,” Serena said. “I want to keep this level, stay focused and play well my next match. I enjoy every moment. I enjoy walking out there and I like to battle.
“I’m blessed to be in this position, to travel the world, play tennis and do something I love every day.”
Third-seeded Rafael Nadal grabbed a fourth-round spot in the men’s singles in an early match, beating Nicolas Almagro 7-5 6-4 6-4.
In other early third-round matches, seventh-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Julien Benneteau 7-6 (4) 6-2 6-4; No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez ousted No. 17 Tomas Berdych 7-5 6-4 6-4; No. 13 Gael Monfils advanced when Jose Acasuso retired with a left knee injury while trailing 6-3 6-4 1-0; No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro beat Daniel Koellerer 6-1 3-6 6-3 6-3; No. 24 Juan Carlos Ferrero upset No. 9 Gilles Simon, who retired with a right knee injury while trailing 1-6 67-4 7-6 (5) 1-0; and No. 16 Marin Cilic stopped Denis Istomin 6-1 6-4 6-3.