| Kim Clijsters after her win over Serena Williams in Los Angeles Monday. (AFP)
Los Angeles: Kim Clijsters of Belgium did what few could in 2002, defeating World No. 1 Serena Williams 7-5, 6-3 to win the WTA Tour Championship.
Clijsters, seeded fifth, posted her first career victory over Williams, whose eight titles in 2002 included the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Williams suffered only her fifth defeat of the season and saw an 18-match winning streak snapped. As in her previous two matches here, she was hurt by the unforced errors — 44 throughout the 85-minute match.
Clijsters, 19, captured her fourth title of the year and ninth of her career. She lost just 14 games and didn’t drop a set en route to the $765,000 winner’s prize.
“If someone had told me I would beat Williams in straight sets in the final, I wouldn’t have believed him,” an ecstatic Clijsters said.
“I just tried to run as many balls back as I could, and she made some easy mistakes.”
Clijsters broke Williams to love in the eighth game of the second set and then saved a break point on her own serve and clinched the match on her first match point.
The first set saw a seesaw battle featuring seven service breaks. Williams broke in the seventh game to lead 4-3 and held the next game to lead 5-3.
But serving for the set at 5-4, Williams was broken — falling behind 0-40 and saving three break points before finally surrendering her serve.
“When I was a break down, I tried to win the first point,” Clijsters said. “I was so focused on the game, I didn’t know if I was up or down.”
Williams appeared poised to force the tiebreaker in the 12th game, leading 40-0 before Clijsters battled back. She gave Clijsters a set point with a double fault and saved it with a service winner before two errors cost her the game and set.
“I didn’t think I was going to lose tonight,” Williams said. “But I did kind of feel my time winding down, in my legs and my arm and my back ... Right now I feel like a 98-year old. Everything broken, I’m ready to go home.”
Clijsters said that she noticed that Williams “wasn’t moving as well as she normally does” as the match wore on.
But Williams, who played just 13 tournaments this season and took October off, acknowledged that there were others among the elite field here who perhaps had more cause to plead fatigue.
“I don’t want to take any credit away from Kim,” she said. “She earned the win. She played pretty good throughout the whole tournament. I don’t think she lost a set.”
Clijsters also became the fourth player to beat both Serena and Venus Williams in the same tournament, and the first since Martina Hingis at the 2001 Australian Open. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Steffi Graf did it at Sydney in 1998 and 1999 seasons.
Williams, who was trying to become the first player since Graf in 1995-96 to defend the title, pocketed $ 382,000. Had the 21-year-old won, she would have become the first woman to surpass $4 earnings in one year.
“I wish I could have done a little better in this tournament, but, hey, I think I had a decent year,” she said. “I won three Slams. I guess that’s all right.”