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Serena: The princess of tennis

by Junji Noda

All the underdog wanted was a few minutes of Serena Williams’ off her best game. That’s how Kim Clijsters described her chances of topping the world’s No. 1 player in the Toyota Princess Cup final.

With Williams’ inconsistent groundstrokes, Clijsters got exactly that — for almost two sets. Then, to borrow her words, it was time for Williams “to set the record straight.”

Top-seeded Williams revitalized herself in the final games of the second and third sets to dispatch Clijsters’ dream of an upset with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 win, taking home her second Toyota Princess Cup title on Sunday at the Ariake Colosseum.

“It was a tough beginning because (Clijsters) was playing so well and I was hitting about 90 errors in the first set,” said Williams, who took home $93,000 after winning her seventh title of the year.

Williams, the holder of three Grand Slam titles this year, had herself to blame for the first-set falters. She began the game tentatively and netted the ball numerous times.

“At one point, I said to myself, ‘If you don’t stop making errors, you’re going to give it to her,’ ” Williams said. “I tried to keep hitting because the worst way to lose a match is by being a chicken and not hitting.”

Williams notched two double faults and only made 45 percent of her first serves, compared to Clijsters’ 65.

Contrarily, Clijsters attacked with tough-angled groundstrokes and had Williams puzzled, especially on her backhand. The Belgian took a commanding 4-0 lead after breaking Williams’ towering service game three times in the set.

“I made a lot of errors today. . . People used to hit to my backhand so much that it almost became my stronger side,” Williams said. “But after the (U.S.) Open, honestly, I didn’t practice. So maybe I was a little rusty. But now, I could almost feel I’m where I was in the U.S. Open.”

The pace of the match shifted late in the second set, when Williams broke Clijsters with a 4-3 lead. Williams cruised to take the final game attacking with consecutive winners.

By the third set, Williams had control. She had 10 winners — 21 in total — while Clijsters only hit nine for the match.

“My game was consistent today” said Clijsters, who got $49,500 in prize money. “She raised her game up a little bit.”

The match got off to a bizarre start with delays due to rain and a stadium light malfunction. The rain delayed the start by 45 minutes to close the Colosseum roof, and after Clijsters took a 2-0 lead in the first, a partial blackout at the stadium led the players to return to the locker room again — this time for 23 minutes.

Every time the two players returned to court, they were forced to tediously warmup again.

“You try not to worry about it,” Clijsters said. “The warmup was probably the most boring part of the game.”

Williams, a sumo fanatic and a Takanohana fan, had her plans set for the post-final party. She wanted to depart the Colosseum as soon as possible.

“I’m actually going to sumo,” said Williams, whose match ended almost four hours before Takanohana’s bout against Musashimaru at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

“So you guys have to hurry with the questions,” she said smiling.

In the doubles final, Spanish veteran Arantxa Sanchez Vicario teamed with 17-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia to win their third title in as many tournaments together this year, beating Petra Mandula and Patricia Wartusch 6-2, 6-4.