Kim Clijsters raises her arms in victory after defeating Samantha...

Kim Clijsters raises her arms in victory after defeating Samantha Stosur 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, during their quarterfinals match at the 2010 U.S. Open. (Sept. 7, 2010) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Venus Williams isn't looking beyond today's semifinal clash with Kim Clijsters, isn't yet thinking about a spot in the final of the U.S. Open. There is much work yet do to beat Clijsters, the defending champion.

Williams is an Open champion herself, with back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001. The 2001 win was over sister Serena in the first Saturday night women's extravaganza. In 2002 Serena beat Venus in the final. That was the last Open final Venus reached and she has made only one semifinal since then, in 2007.

For a player once so dominant, a player with five Wimbledon titles, the latest coming last year, the absence from the Open final is glaring. While she never can be discounted, Williams hadn't played at all since a quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon, nursing a knee problem, and in two easy early-round matches here she flinched after landing on it. It has not seemed a factor since.

Typically, when asked about the chances of being in the final, Williams downplayed it. "I want to be in the final, because obviously it's just one step," Williams said. "But I'm just focused on the semis, and I don't get too excited until the tournament is over, so ..."

Last year Clijsters returned to the Open after a two-year absence to recuperate from injuries and have a baby. She beat Williams in the round of 16 on her way to the title, which gave her consecutive titles going back to 2006. Clijsters has won 19 straight matches at the Open.

Clijsters and Williams are 6-6 head-to-head. Clijsters thinks that Williams' absence from this summer's hard-court season hasn't hurt her a bit.

"The way she has been playing, and the way that she has mentally looked, I think it's maybe been even good for her to have been away for that long because she looks more hungry than ever," Clijsters said. "She plays more aggressively. She's steady, she's focused. This is probably some of the best of Venus I've seen in a while."

Clijsters has won the last four matches between the two, including a bizarre 6-0, 0-6, 6-4 match here last year. Clijsters had just returned to competition three weeks before the Open in 2009 and Williams realized that Clijsters was still the supreme athlete.

"Just the ability to compete. I think in coming back from her layoff, I think she never lost that," Williams said. "When you're a really, really incredible athlete, it really takes your game to another level. So definitely it takes some special kind of God-given talent."

With one semifinal a battle of Grand Slam winners, the other is a battle of Grand Slam contenders. Caroline Wozniacki, who lost to Clijsters in last year's Open final, takes on Vera Zvonareva, who lost in the Wimbledon final to Serena Williams. Each is looking for her first Grand Slam trophy. Wozniacki is the No. 1 seed and has won the last two hard-court tournaments she's played in.

Zvonareva is having her best Grand Slam season. While both players are defensive minded, Zvonareva likely will go for more winners. "When she has a chance she's aggressive," said Kaia Kanepi, who Zvonareva beat in the quarters. "She's top 10. She has to be good."

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