A perfect comeback for Clijsters
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 naptime 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.
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.
Image: Kim Clijsters with daughter Jada
'I don't have words for this'
The 26-year-old Belgian climbed up to the family box to hug friends and kiss her husband, Brian, after adding a second grand slam triumph to her 2005 US Open victory.
"I don't have words for this," she said on court during the trophy presentation ceremony.
"I'm just glad I got to come back and defend my title from 2005. It's so exciting for me."
The Belgian said winning was "not really our plan."
"I just wanted to start these three tournaments to get back into the rhythm of playing tennis and get used to the surroundings again," said Clijsters, who collected a $1.6 million prize.
"So I have to thank the USTA for giving me the wild card to come back here."
Image: Kim Clijsters with daughter Jada
'The fairytale goes on'
Clijsters, playing only her third tournament after taking more than two years off to start a family, clinched a 93-minute victory with a forehand winner and dropped to her knees in celebration, visibly sobbing.
Clijsters, unranked due to her long absence, was invited to play the Open as a wild card and had not competed at Flushing Meadows since her first grand slam triumph -- missing the 2006 championship because of injury and the last two in retirement.
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.
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.
Image: Kim Clijsters with husband Bryan and daughter Jada
'She's such a great girl'
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.
"She's such a great girl," said Wozniacki, who was trying to become the first Dane to win a grand slam singles title.
"Unfortunately she beat me today. She played a great match and deserved this trophy."
Image: Clijsters with Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki sees bright future despite loss
Wozniacki took the long-term approach to her tennis career after losing her first appearance in a grand slam final.
"Obviously I don't like losing," she said. "I'm a competitor and I love winning. But I think I've had some great weeks here. I mean, I was in the final of a grand slam.
"I'm only 19 years old. My ranking will go up again and I'm just happy the way I'm playing and the way I've been progressing so far. I'm playing good tennis."
Despite her world number eight ranking and more than $2 million in earnings, Wozniacki is not yet a household name. Her peers, however, are well aware of her game.
Wozniacki has won the most matches on the tour this year, 62, and dropped only one set en route to becoming the first Danish woman to reach the final of a grand slam tournament.
Despite playing before nearly 23,000 fans under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium and shouldering the dreams of a nation, Wozniacki went out there on Sunday night to "enjoy it."
"I wasn't too nervous," she said. "You're always excited when you're going out to a match. But I just thought, 'I'm playing a grand slam final. I have nothing to lose. I just need to go out there and try to do my best.'
"And that's what I did."
Wozniacki tipped her hat to Clijsters, the 26-year-old former world number one who took 27 months off to start a family and has only been back on tour for a few weeks.
"Kim played a great match," said Wozniacki. "She showed that she's playing great tennis, and I'm happy to have her back.
"But of course I'd like to have taken the next step and have won this match. She played better to me today and that's why she won."
Wozniacki briefly played the villain when she beat 17-year-old American sweetheart Melanie Oudin in the quarter-finals. But she ultimately won some of those fans over with her steady game and her humble demeanour.
Barely an hour after the Open final, she was already looking ahead.
"What I need to do is not think about the score, but what I can do to improve my game and go out there and be a stronger player next time," she said. "It's important not to look back too much."
Image: Caroline Wozniacki