I expect Kim Clijsters to win the WTA year-end championships. She dominated the summer and fall season and is the strongest player in the field. She has promised herself that she will retire in two years and that should help her mentally. It’s like knowing that the season will be over after this week. It allows you to push yourself.

Davenport can beat every player here but sometimes an athlete loses an edge towards the end of their career. They get to important finals but they can’t play the critical points well enough to win a slam or year-end championship. Davenport reached the Australian and the US Open finals this year and won the first set in each match before losing both. This makes Pete Sampras all the more exceptional. After failing to win a tournament for two seasons, he won the US Open in 2002 then promptly retired. How many players win a slam on their last try?

I still think Kim Clijsters is the favorite but last night she forgot that it’s not next week yet. In the first match of the tournament, Mary Pierce had six service winners and an ace in three service games and hit a ton of winners to take the first set, 6-1. Afterwards, Clijsters said that Pierce would probably have won the first set no matter what she did but Clijsters was being gracious. She is the best defensive player on the tour. When a journalist asked Pierce who was the most athletic player she ever faced, she didn’t hesitate, “Kim is the quickest person I’ve ever played against.”

Clijsters said that she was so tired that the lights in Staples Center bothered her eyes and she couldn’t see the ball. This is the end of a year in which she played four of the five tournaments in the US Open Series and won the US Open to win her first slam. It was probably worth it, she won $2.2 million dollars at the Open – the richest prize in women’s sports history – and will win over $4 million for the year if she reaches the final here. That’s a lot of money. So far, only one woman has won over $4 million dollars in one WTA season: Clijsters, in 2003. She should send a thank you note to Billie Jean King, the main person responsible for establishing a separate women’s tour.

Playing that many tournaments can make you tired, but winning the US Open can be exhausting. “It’s not just the tennis”, Clijsters said, “it’s the attention and everything too. It was fun … but after a while you need your rest.”

“It’s not just the tennis”, Clijsters said, “it’s the attention and everything too. It was fun … but after a while you need your rest.”

In the first game of the second set, Pierce ran forward to reach a net chord ball and ran into the net causing it to collapse. It’s not quite the same as Shaquille O’Neal smashing a backboard with a monster dunk but it took a while to reposition the net. Clijsters seemed to find her rhythm after the break and we started seeing the famous Clijsters split, the gymnastic movement that looks like it should hurt a lot. The first set began to look like an anomaly. Pierce hadn’t won a set in three previous meetings, one of them a lopsided loss to Clijsters in the Open final.

When Clijsters broke Pierce to go up 4-3 in the second set, things looked like they were back to normal. Clijsters was hitting hard flat shots to the corners and Pierce was floating back weak returns. Then, serving for the set at 5-4, Clijsters hit three double faults, one on set point, before managing to win the game and even the match. In two sets, Clijsters had seven double faults. Definitely not normal.

Clijsters broke Pierce in the first game in the third set but gave the break back with her ninth and tenth double faults to even the set at 4-4. All night long, Pierce had been going for winners early in the point to keep Clijsters from running her around. It worked in the first set but by the end of the third set, forehands down the line were going wide or into the net. An inside out forehand error gave Clijsters another break and let her serve for the match.

A journalist asked Clijsters if she was too tired to realize that she was serving for the match. “I knew I was up, ” she said, “but I didn’t feel physically like I was up.” Her brain was in the building but her body was not.

After another double fault and aggressive play by Pierce, including a shot to Clijsters belly button at close range, the match was over. Pierce hit four winners in the first five tiebreak points to win the match, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(2), and get her first point in the round-robin format.

As she got up from the table at the end of the media session, Clijsters yawned.

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