Commentary

Five incentives for women's finalists

Originally Published: September 11, 2010
By Kamakshi Tandon | Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva will face each other in the U.S. Open final Saturday. Here's what's on the line for each player.

Five reasons for Clijsters to win:

1 … Slam title this year

It all seemed so easy last year when Clijsters won the U.S. Open in just her third tournament back, with the charming scenes of 18-month-old daughter Jada running around on court while Mom lifted the trophy. Things have been trickier this year due to injuries or early exits at the majors.

Winning on Saturday would redeem Clijsters' season and confirm that last year's victory wasn't just comeback luck.

[+] EnlargeKim Clijsters
Susan Mullane/US PresswireKim Clijsters is looking to become the sixth player to win three U.S. Open titles in the Open era.

2 … straight losses to Zvonareva

Zvonareva knocked Clijsters out of Wimbledon and repeated the feat at Montreal last month. The Belgian doesn't want to make it three straight losses against an opponent she previously owned, having won all five of their matches during the first part of her career.

3 … U.S. Open titles

Clijsters would join some pretty elite company as a three-time U.S. Open winner -- Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King in the Open era. With all her major success coming at this site, it's apt that Clijsters is now a part-time resident of nearby New Jersey, where her husband, Brian, is from.

It would also be her third Grand Slam overall, tying her with Maria Sharapova. Clijsters will also be going for her 21st straight match win at Flushing Meadows -- injuries stopped her from defending her title in 2006, and retirement kept her away for the next two years.

4 … titles this year

Clijsters plays a limited schedule these days and focuses on the big events. That means she doesn't rack up as many titles as she used to; this would be her fourth of the year and the fifth of her comeback. She has won in Brisbane, Miami and Cincinnati so far this season.

5 … hundred thousand dollar bonus

As the second-place finisher in the U.S. Open Series, Clijsters stands to get a $500,000 bonus in addition to the $1.7 million she would receive for winning the tournament. She's done well in the bonus sakes before -- in 2005, Clijsters became only woman to win the U.S. Open Series and the U.S. Open, earning a $1 million bonus.

Five reasons for Zvonareva to win:

1 … Grand Slam title

Zvonareva is playing her second consecutive Grand Slam final, having also reached this stage against Serena Williams at Wimbledon. She'd like to win this one and collect her first major, not something she was really expected to ever do before this year.

2 … times her year-to-date earnings

Getting $1.7 million for winning the U.S. Open would more than double the $1.46 million Zvonareva has won so far this season. In fact, if she wins the U.S. Open in addition to reaching the Wimbledon final in July , Zvonareva would have earned nearly a third of her career $8.1 million in just the past three months.

3 … straight wins against Clijsters

Zvonareva showed the world her new level of poise by coming from a set down to defeat Clijsters at Wimbledon. She also got the Belgian in three sets at Montreal, though Clijsters appeared to be hampered by a tightening hip during the later stages of the match. A third straight win would be quite a statement by Zvonareva, especially if it comes on a stage as big as a Grand Slam final.

Zvonareva still trails the head-to-head 5-2, though their past four matches have gone three sets and those five losses were all in 2006 or before, when both were at a very different stage of their careers.

4 … Russians to be ranked No. 2

Zvonareva is guaranteed to reach a career-high of No. 4 no matter what happens in the final, and would go to No. 2 if she wins. She's also the top-ranked Russian at the moment, with no one else from the country currently in the top 10. It's a far cry from 2004, when Zvonareva said, "I'm ranked in the top 10 and I feel like nothing because I'm 6 in Russia."

5 … things to forget

A year ago, Zvonareva held six match points against Flavia Pennetta in the fourth round before melting down. Her dramatic downfall included crying, tearing the bandages on her knees, swearing at an umpire, sitting on the court and smacking her legs and hitting her head with her racket.

Her semifinal against Caroline Wozniacki this year was a striking contrast, with Zvonareva showing impressive self-possession. She pulled off volleys and drop-shots under pressure, and remained unrattled even when her strings broke an unheard-of four times during the match.

The Russian insists she hasn't really changed and remains an emotional player. But those emotions have been largely positive during this fortnight.

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.