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Venus Williams powers past Clijsters to win Bank of the West

 Image from article Venus Williams powers past Clijsters to win Bank of the West

Conventional wisdom held serve at Stanford University last Sunday. And it was the serves that told the story.

That should have come as no surprise to anyone watching the singles finals of the Bank of the West Classic, with two of the tournament's three fastest server - top-seeded Venus Williams and fourth seed Kim Clijsters - facing off in a battle of the last two Bank of the West champions.

Williams, the 2000 champion, outlasted and overpowered Clijsters for a 6-3, 6-3 victory in front of a capacity crowd to earn her 26th career singles title.

It took Williams some time before she began exerting control - about four games. After splitting the first four games of the match to leave the first set tied 2-2, Williams won eight of the next nine games to put herself on the brink of victory.

Clijsters fought valiantly to hold off the inevitable, but Williams clearly kept the pressure on her throughout the match.

Williams' main tool of control was her powerful serve. And as her serve went, so went the direction of the match.

"I was getting aces and service winners, and it really helped me set up my game," Williams said.

Although her serve statistics (four aces, 10 double faults) do not necessarily indicate a dominant serving performance, Williams used her serve to put pressure on Clijsters. Williams won 23 points out of the 33 first serves she landed in play.

Clijsters was clearly feeling the strain of playing on her heels.

"You feel like every shot has to be perfect," said Clijsters, who defeated Williams last month in Germany in the finals at Hamburg. "You have to make her run from side to side, because she's too strong to let her stand still and hit two or three shots to the same spot."

Williams' power was clearly the defining factor, as she hit 24 winners to Clijsters' seven.

After breaking Clijsters' serve to take control, Williams closed the first set with an impressive 116 mph ace. After falling behind 30-0 with a pair of unforced errors in the first game of the second set, Williams drew the game to deuce, hitting the shot of the match when she tapped an amazing drop shot from close to her own baseline.

The shot seemed to stay in the air for minutes while the crowed oohed and aahed, but just had too much backspin for Clijsters to respond.

After gaining the advantage on the next point, Williams closed the game with a beautiful backhand winner and seized control of the set from there.

Despite several double faults from Williams over the next few games, and some acrobatic efforts on the part of Clijsters, Williams used her crushing serve to cruise to a 4-0 lead in the second set.

Clijsters showed the crowd her signature return shot, skidding, reaching and nearly doing the splits on several occasions in her attempt to keep the match competitive.

Clijsters had her chances, though. After narrowing the gap to 4-1, Clijsters had two consecutive break points that could have brought her back into the match, but she squandered both by hitting her returns into the net. After the second error, Clijsters playfully shook her fists in frustration.

Despite winning back-to-back games facing elimination, Clijsters committed a costly double fault to give Williams match point, and Venus took advantage of the opening.

Other highlights from the six-day tournament at Stanford:

Top-seeded Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs resoundingly defeated the team of Janette Husarov and Conchita Martinez 6-1, 6-1 to net the doubles title.

Clijsters defeated No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals Saturday in a rematch of the 2001 championship. Just two games away from defeat, Clijsters rallied to earn a come-from-behind 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory. In the other semifinal, Williams defeated Lisa Raymond 6-3, 6-0.

Highly-criticized Anna Kournikova made her best showing in recent memory, breaking a four-match losing streak by defeating No. 8 seed Anna Smashnova. Kournikova then beat Wynne Prakusya before losing to Williams in the quarter-finals. Kournikova withdrew from her match in the doubles semifinals with Meghann Shaughnessy due to an abdominal strain.

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