NEW YORK — Kim Clijsters cradled the baby in one hand, the trophy in the other.
The joy of motherhood. The joy of winning the U.S. Open.
Clijsters made history Sunday night, capping a comeback from two years out of tennis to become the first unseeded woman to win the Open — and the first mom to win a major since 1980 — with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki.
When it was over, Clijsters collapsed to the ground and started crying — tears of joy, probably mixed in with a little bit of shock, too. Her 18-month-old daughter, Jada, watched from a suite with a pacifier in her mouth, but later came down to the court to take part in the celebration.
Guess what mommy got for you, sweetie! A Grand Slam title.
“It was not really our plan,” Clijsters said. “I just wanted to start these three tournaments and get back into the rhythm of playing tennis and get used to the surroundings again.”
Talk about your quick transitions.
It was all quite a different scene from the night before, when Clijsters’ semifinal win over Serena Williams was decided on a point penalty, and the 26-year-old Belgian stood behind the baseline, looking bewildered as Williams ran over to shake her hand.
Williams’ tirade may have been the talk of the U.S. Open. But Clijsters was the winner. This was her second U.S. Open title, the last coming in 2005 — her last appearance at Flushing Meadows and before a spate of nagging injuries eventually drove her out of the sport and led her to start a family.
Some might have called this the mother of all upsets, but by the time she reached the final, against the resilient but still-learning 19-year-old from Denmark, it was hard to view it that way.
Clijsters beat both Williams sisters and two other players seeded in the teens. She matched Venus and Serena power shot for power shot and showed she could play Wozniacki’s patient game — and play it better.
This match was nothing like the Williams match — before it turned sour — which was filled with short, hard-hitting rallies in which Clijsters moved one of tennis’ best players at will and made her hit shots from places she normally doesn’t.
Instead, it was a waiting game, and when Clijsters fell behind 4-2 in the first set, she showed she was willing to play it.
A 29-shot rally here, a 25-shot rally there. Drop shots and lobs. Clijsters did that. Went for more, too, and finished with two more winners than unforced errors (36-34), and 26 more winners than Wozniacki.
After getting back on serve, Clijsters held off two break points at 5-5, then broke Wozniacki for the fourth time to win the first set. The second set was easier and before they knew it, Jada was on the court posing for photographers.
Clijsters didn’t even have a ranking coming into this tournament because she hadn’t played enough matches to get on the list. She’ll come in at around No. 20 when the new rankings come out this week, but probably won’t try to improve on that right away.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world being a mother,” she said. “I just can’t wait to spend next the few weeks with her and have her routine schedule at home again.”