Playing fast and looking fit, Clijsters cruised to a 6-3, 4-3 lead over Vera Zvonareva when the 12th-seeded Russian retired, the victim of an apparent respiratory illness, after one hour and 23 minutes of play.
Breezy conditions conspired with injury-induced inactivity from both women for an uneven start to this rematch of the 2010 U.S. Open final. Zvonareva had the most trouble, as was pushed behind the baseline by the substantial weight and depth of Clijsters' shots. The Belgian hit a forcing cross-court forehand to break for 2-0, then drilled a body blow serve to hold at love for 3-0.
Zvonareva dug in and fought off five break points to hold for 1-3. In the ensuing game, Clijsters was in control of the point when she tried to hit behind her opponent on an approach, but paid the price as Zvonareva lashed a forehand pass to break for 2-3. It was the start of a stretch of four straight breaks; Zvonareva won just two points on her serve as Clijsters broke twice in succession for 5-3, before serving out the 41-minute first set at 15.
If Clijsters reviews a replay of this match, she'll likely be pleased with how quickly she covered the court, but will want to clean up her performance on break points. She converted just four of 15, committing some sloppy errors on six of her first eight break chances, and she sometimes missed the mark trying to change direction withher running forehand. But she put the two-time Grand Slam finalist—albeit one who looked lethargic struggling with apparent illness—under almost constant pressure on serve. Driving her shots deep into the corners to force the Russian to defend, Clijsters earned break points in Zvonareva's first six service games.
Just two years ago, Zvonareva was the singles and doubles runner-up at The Championships and went on to lose to Clijsters in the U.S. Open final. Plagued by left hip and right shoulder injuries that forced her out of the French Open and limited her to 17 singles matches in 2012, Zvonareva was coughing at times and never looked completely comfortable today. After holding for a 2-1 second-set lead, she appeared to pinch back tears with her towel before calling for the trainer and tournament doctor. Zvonareva left the court for five minutes, returned to play four more games, but called it quits after Clijsters broke at love for 4-3.
Next up for Clijsters is her first meeting with eighth-seeded Angelique Kerber, with the winner facing either Maria Sharapova or Sabine Lisicki in the quarters. Clijsters still exhibits the flexibility of a contortionist at age 29; her physicality is a key quality in both her adaptability and her vulnerability to injury. If she stays healthy, she looks like a woman planning to stick around and kick grass at SW19 a little longer.