Former US Open champion Kim Clijsters continued her remarkable comeback from retirement with a three-set victory over third seed Venus Williams.
Belgian wild card, Clijsters, had not played at Flushing Meadows since winning the 2005 title, reached the quarter-finals with a 6-0 0-6 6-4 victory over the two-time champion in one hour 42 minutes at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It’s unbelievable, I don’t know what to say, such a weird match after those first two sets,” Clijsters said.
“When I lost the second set 6-0 I just said ’let’s start over and really fight for each point’.”
Clijsters took advantage of a shaky start from Williams by breaking the third seed in the American’s first two service games to take a 3-0 lead
Breaking serve seemed to come as easily to Clijsters as holding and another break point came in the third seed’s third service game, Williams netting a forehand as the hard-hitting Clijsters raced into a 5-0 lead.
Williams, her left knee more heavily strapped than it had been in the third round, had been unusually flat but earned her first break point of the match only for the Belgian to hit a powerful forehand winner on the way to taking the first set in 27 minutes.
The second set saw the match turned on its head.
Williams produced her first ace of the contest to get on the board at the start of the second set and then Clijsters pulled out two double faults on the way to losing her serve for the first time as the two-time former champion took a 2-0 lead.
Williams was warming to the task at last and she cranked up her serve in the third game, sealing it with consecutive aces of 119 and 120 miles per hour.
Clijsters was suddenly having difficulty on her serve and another double fault came as Williams went a double break up at 4-0.
Williams held serve in game five and before Clijsters fell 15-40 down in the next.
The American sealed the set with a backhand winner and after just 50 minutes it was one set all.
Williams held serve at the start of the final set to win her seventh consecutive game and her mobility was improving with every one.
On Clijsters’ next service, she saved game point with an excellent reach to return the Belgian’s overhead before the wild card eventually held serve.
Both women were on the scoreboard in the same set for the first time at 1-1 but then Williams seemed to go off the boil.
Clijsters levelled at 30-30 with a powerful backhand winner and took the game when Williams double faulted to gift her a break.
Williams then served to stay in the match at 5-3 and, having powered down a 117mph serve that Clijsters could not return, the American let her rival into the game with an overhit volley at the net.
Clijsters needed to do the splits to get to a Williams forehand at 30-15, teeing up the third seed for an overhead she also sent long.
Williams, though, managed to wrong-foot Clijsters to take the game and, at 5-4, the Belgian served for the match.
Williams used all her resolve and some thundering groundstrokes to get to 0-30 on her opponents’ serve and she earned her first two break points of the set only for Clijsters to hammer home a forehand winner.
On the next point, Clijsters pinned Williams down on the baseline until the American netted a forehand and it was the same again as the Belgian earned match point.
Clijsters sent down a blistering serve out wide which Williams could not return to seal, after two-and-a-half years of retirement, a place in the last eight of a grand slam for the tearful former world number one.
She faces a quarter-final date on Tuesday against China’s Li Na, the 18th seed.
“I’ve had some really tough matches against her,” Clijsters said of Li. “She has a great forehand and really likes to play aggressive tennis as well. It’s going to be a physically tough match but I get a day’s rest and I’ll hopefully go out there and give it my best.”