By Megan Fernandez
Mason, Ohio, is known for roller coasters. Kings Island amusement park is home to the tallest, longest, and fastest wooden coasters in the world. They are so close to the Lindner Family Tennis Center, home of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters and Womenâ€™s Open, fans can watch the Delirium swing like a pendulum 137 feet in the air, and occasionally they can hear the screams from the Drop Tower.
But the roller coaster that had everyone riveted today was the final of the Womenâ€™s Open between Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova, which was contested over two-and-a-half hours through heat, chill, bright sun, angry clouds, stadium lights, and eventually blue skies. When the ride was over, it was Clijstersâ€™s scream that pierced the air. She took the title 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
It was the Belgianâ€™s third title of the year, adding to her wins in Brisbane and Miami, and her ranking is projected to rise to number four, her highest since coming out of retirement exactly a year ago. Sharapova was also gunning for her third title of the year. As a consolation prize, she is now leading the Olympus US Open Series.
At 1-2 in the first set, Sharapova reeled off 10 of the next 13 games for a 6-2, 5-3 lead. Â By then , dark clouds were approaching. The crowd fidgeted as half of the sky darkened and rain seemed imminent. â€œYouâ€™re playing a day match, and within 30 seconds youâ€™re almost playing a night match,â€ Sharapova said. With one half of the sky bright and the other half nearly black, Clijsters served to stay in the match at 3-5. Sharapova earned her first match point with a shot that was called in on the baseline. Clijsters had three challenges, but oddly, did not use one. She saved the match pointâ€”and two more in the gameâ€”before the sky finally opened up and forced a rain delay with the score at deuce.
Play resumed after an hour and 15 minutes. Sharapovaâ€™s serve, so dominant this week, deserted her as she double-faulted on break point in Clijstersâ€™s 3-5 game. The set reached a tiebreak, and it had more ups and downs: a 3-0 lead for Sharapova, then five straight points for Kim, then a Sharapova forehand winner followed by a double-fault to give Clijsters her first set point, which she converted.
In the third set, Sharapovaâ€™s serve again let her down early when she hit her ninth double of the match to hand Clijsters the break and a 2-1 lead. On the changeover, Sharapova took a medical timeout for a sore left heel, which she said started bothering her late in the second set. Clijsters heard a supportive voice in the crowd: her daughter Jada yelled â€œMama!â€ from a suite. â€œWith about a minute left in the medical timeout, I got up and started bouncing around. I saw her in the box, waving to me,â€ Clijsters said. â€œI tried to wave back, you know, so nobody sees it.â€
Clijsters launched her comeback in Cincinnati last year with her young daughter in tow, and she said Jada daughter is happy at tournaments as long as there are stairs to climb on. Sheâ€™s still too young for the roller coasters towering over the tennis centerâ€”too young, even, to realize that her mama survived todayâ€™s ups and downs. Said Clijsters, â€œShe still doesnâ€™t know the difference between winning and losing.â€