ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) _ Venus Williams overwhelmed Kim Clijsters 6-2, 6-4 to win the Diamond Games Sunday and come within striking distance of clinching the US$875,000 diamond-encrusted trophy racket for good.
In a final between the world's No. 2 and 3, the ranking was respected as Williams' overpowering serve and flawless backcourt game made the difference. The American slammed serves peaking at 188 kph (117.5 mph), compared to too many serves of the Belgian which barely went 150 kph (94 mph).
The successful defense of her title left Williams in an enviable position. If she wins the Antwerp event in any of the next three years, she can claim the diamond racket her own. The trophy goes to the first triple champion in any five-year span.
Williams' straight-set win came despite the massive support of the capacity crowd of 14,400 at the Sports Palace, which was fully behind local hero Clijsters.
Williams played great tennis throughout the week, not losing a set in the tournament where four of the world's top five players reached the semifinal.
In an entertaining opening set, it was Clijsters who was able to force a first breakpoint in the third game, but a great serve and some good backcourt scrambling saved the American.
In the fourth game, Clijsters was still able to save two breakpoints, but two games later Williams left no more respite. After the initial breakthrough the first set followed quickly, taking just 29 minutes.
Clijsters immediately took the initiative in the second set, when a momentary lapse in concentration gave Williams' first service game away.
Williams immediately hit back though, ruthlessly exploiting the weak serve of Clijsters with a love-game to get even at 1-1.
From then on, Clijsters' backcourt game, long the backbone of her play this week, deteriorated as she started hitting balls long, wide, or straight into the net. Williams rushed into a 4-1 lead.
The once-raucous crowd grew increasingly silent, with Williams whipping balls past the Belgian.
Then a brief rally gave Clijsters and the fans a glimmer of hope again as she closed the gap to 5-4 with her own serve to come.
Williams refused to let momentum slip and won the match after 80 minutes when Clijsters sent a ball wide. It was her first tournament win this year.
In Saturday's semifinal, Williams coasted to a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Slovak Daniela Hantuchova, the world's No. 5, while Clijsters won an all-Belgian battle against Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 7-6 (3), ranked fourth in the world.
Williams pulled out of the Dubai Open, which begins Monday, citing a tight schedule.