NEW YORK — The unraveling began for Vera Zvonareva in the sixth game of the first set, in a flurry of forehand errors and a service break.
It picked up speed early in the second set when Zvonareva did the splits trying to track down a Kim Clijsters forehand. She missed, and in her frustration the Russian pummeled her racket until the frame broke.
Clijsters won her second straight U.S. Open women's title and her 21st straight Open match Saturday night with a thorough beating of the seventh-seeded Zvonareva. The score was 6-2, 6-1, and it gave Clijsters her third U.S. Open title overall. She won in 2005, missed 2006 with an injury and 2007 and 2008 during retirement before returning to win last year.
It the first time since Venus Williams won in 2000 and 2001 that a woman has defended her title at the Open. "I'm happy I was capable of repeating history," Clijsters said.
After Zvonareva lost her serve for the first time in the sixth game of the match, Clijsters won seven straight games and, at one point, 14 of 15 points.
"Physically today she was just a much better player," Zvonareva said. "Physically I was not capable of playing at the same level as she was."
It was the second straight Grand Slam final for Zvonareva, who lost to Serena Williams 6-3, 6-2 at Wimbledon.
The only bright spot for Zvonareva came in the fourth game of the second set when she earned her first and only break point. Clijsters promptly served her first ace of the match and a point later followed up with a leaping overhead. Clijsters pumped her fist into the silence of the stadium. Most of the night crowd was hoping for a longer fight.
When she went down 40-0 in Clijsters' first service game of the second set, Zvonareva pounded her racket again until the frame was broken. Zvonareva won the next point but lost the game.
In the men's semifinals, when Novak Djokovic lost the third set, getting his serve broken in a game where he had been the dominating presence, he got some frustration out with his racket, too, hitting himself on the head once, twice, three times and then some more.
In that moment Djokovic seemed to knock out his mental reservations and knock in some tennis sense, the sense to keep up the pace and not back away.
In five sets over 3 hours, 44 minutes of captivating tennis, the third-seeded Djokovic beat five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.
Djokovic saved two match points in the ninth game of the final set against the second-seeded Federer.
Nadal, 24, has won eight major titles but never a U.S. Open.
"It's another step I think in my career," said Nadal, who is in the U.S. Open final for the first time.