Two semifinals, each delicious and dramatic in its own way, brought a rather moribund women's event to crackling life at the U.S. Open yesterday.
And at the end of it, defending champion Kim Clijsters of Belgium and surprise finalist Vera Zvonareva of Russia were the two left standing for tonight's prime-time finale.
As for Clijsters and Williams, they were 6-6 going in. But Clijsters had won the last four, spanning a period both before and after her 27-month absence from the game between 2007 and 2009.
Last year in New York, they met in a crazy quarterfinal, won 6-0, 0-6, 6-4 by Clijsters.
This two-hour, 23-minute clash was much closer throughout.
Up a set, two double faults from Williams in her first two service points in the second-set tiebreaker did her in, and forced a decider
Clijsters was up a break in the third set, and gave it back with a double fault of her own, and an ill-advised swinging forehand volley that was out by several feet.
Then, at 4-4, she started to roll -just at the right time. "I guess at the end she may have made a few less errors. The last two games were just a little -you know, just went her way," Williams said.
At 30, and with her injured sister Serena sitting in the stands instead of playing, this might have been Williams's last, best chance for a major title.
"You know, I feel like the last few times I've played (Clijsters) I haven't been very healthy. So, you know, knowing that I can still obviously almost win, you know, I'm just looking forward to the last time where I can be a lot closer to 100 per cent and play even better," she said. "I'm not sure what my thoughts are. I mean, I tried really, really hard here. I tried my best to play into a rhythm and to continue to be positive. You know, it wasn't easy here to play my normal game because the wind is so bizarre."
As for the head-to-head between Clijsters and Zvonareva, the Belgian leads it 5-2.
But all five wins came before her sabbatical.
Since Clijsters's return, Zvonareva has beaten her twice, most recently at the Rogers Cup last month.
"She's a player who doesn't give you much. She's always there, hangs in there. It's not that she has a game that's very unpredictable, but what she does, she does extremely well," Clijsters said. "So it's going to be a lot different match than it was today."