Thank goodness for Kim Clijsters and Melanie Oudin. The women's game has been in the doldrums of late, but the 26-year-old Belgian and the 17-year-old American have been front-page news here at this year's US Open.
It was Clijsters' turn to win the attention yesterday as the former world No 1 maintained her remarkable progress since her comeback after a two-year break by becoming the first player to reach the semi-finals, beating China's Li Na 6-2, 6-4. The 2005 champion, who needed a wild card to compete, is playing only her third tournament back, having retired in 2007 in order to start a family.
Clijsters took only 63 minutes to book her place in the last four. It was a match decided by mistakes rather than glorious stroke play. The two women hit only nine winners each, with Li's 41 unforced errors, compared with Clijsters' 25, the most telling statistic. Li is a bold striker of the ball but did not have enough variety in her game to trouble Clijsters unduly.
Having raced through the first set, Clijsters faltered only in the early stages of the second. After scorning two opportunities to take a 3-0 lead, she dropped her serve to enable Li to level the set at 3-3. Three games later, however, Clijsters restored her advantage. Forcing two match points at 5-4, the Belgian wasted the first with a nervous forehand into the net but converted the second with a service winner.
"I'm glad I got through it again and stayed focused on my game," Clijsters said aferwards. "I wanted to be aggressive and I think that's what helped winning those important points today."
Clijsters was surprised to have reached the semi-finals but said she had started to believe she could hold her own again against the world's best when playing in her second comeback tournament in Canada last month.
"Something switched with me after Toronto," she said. "I felt: 'OK, I can compete with these girls.' That was obviously a big question in my mind. Although I was hitting the balls really well in practice and I felt I was doing well physically, you still want to know what it's like to play against those girls and get a feel for how the level has changed."
The performance by Clijsters is the best ever by a women's wild card here and matches Jimmy Connors' achievement in reaching the last four in 1991. In tomorrow's semi-finals she will play the winner of last night's match between Serena Williams and Flavia Pennetta.
Today it will be Oudin's turn to take centre stage as the world No 70 faces Caroline Wozniacki, a 19-year-old Dane, for a place in the last four. Wozniacki reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final by beating Svetlana Kuznetsova, the French Open champion, 2-6, 7-6, 7-6. It denied Oudin the chance to play a Russian for the fifth round in succession after her victories over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova.