Re: 2012 Kim News
Clijsters Gives It Her All and Makes It Look Easy
MELBOURNE, Australia — It looked so easy for Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open on Wednesday as she leaned into her strokes from inside the baseline and dispatched the overmatched Stιphanie Foretz Gacon, 6-0, 6-1, in well under an hour.
But it has been anything but easy in the last year, even in the last week, for Clijsters to put herself in position to have the farewell season brimming with meaning that she hopes she deserves.
“I’ll be honest, there were definitely moments last year where I felt like I’m not even going to last until the Olympics,” she said, sitting at a table in the shade at Melbourne Park. “There were moments I felt like maybe I need to listen to my body and say, ‘Look, I’ve had a great comeback and maybe this is it for me.’
“I’ve had those questions going through my head, but every time there was something after a couple of days of just letting all those emotions take their place. I always felt like, ‘No, this is not how I would like to end my career.’ ”
What Clijsters, just 28, would like is to end her career with the right feeling more than the right trophy.
“It doesn’t mean I need to win a Grand Slam this year, but I want to know at the end of this season that I gave myself 100 percent with everything that I did, whether it was doing boring exercises in the gym or having a tough workout out on court,” she said. “You know there’s going to be matches out there where you’re not feeling good and where you have to mentally battle through and find solutions to win them, and I actually want to have those moments as well and live them fully, be mindful, very mindful.”
Clijsters is in a reflective mood these days, speaking often and touchingly of her father, Leo, who died three years ago, and casting a nostalgic eye on Australia, which has embraced her since she was engaged to Lleyton Hewitt years ago. But Clijsters is quick to point out that this is a business trip.
“I’m not here because it might be the last time I’m going to be in Melbourne, and I want to go visit the penguins,” she said. “I’m here with my focus on tennis 100 percent.”
That seems prudent considering that she has played so little competitive tennis in the last seven months and that her half of the draw includes Li Na, whom she beat in last year’s final here; top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki; No. 3 Victoria Azarenka; and No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska.
But first Clijsters must get past her close friend Daniela Hantuchova in the third round. Clijsters was 9-0 against Hantuchova as a professional until they faced each other in the semifinals in Brisbane in the first week of this season. Clijsters was unable to finish the match after injuring her hip.
Clijsters played only nine events last year, and not because of the prioritizing that comes with being a working mother. After winning the Australian Open last year and soon returning to No. 1, she appeared set to restore some coherence to the top of the women’s game, but again her body did not cooperate.
Pain is what drove her out of the sport the first time in 2007 at age 24. Last year, there were shoulder, wrist and ankle injuries. Short on matches, she lost in the second round at the French Open and withdrew from Wimbledon and the United States Open.
“When you come back and work hard, you want to at least be able to play or feel good out on the court,” Clijsters said. “It doesn’t mean you always have to play perfect tennis. That’s a different story, but I wanted to at least feel like I was able to move freely and hit without worrying about my shoulder or my hip or my foot, those kind of things. And at one point, I couldn’t even do that anymore, and that was frustrating, especially with the type of tennis that I play. It’s physical.”
She is hardly the only one playing that way in this muscular era, but she retains an unmistakable presence on a tennis court. Clijsters is a smooth technician whose bludgeoning power so rarely seems forced. She moves, above all laterally, with remarkable grace even if she is trying to stop using her trademark splits after the Brisbane injury.
“I think it would be a smart thing,” her coach, Carl Maes, said.
Maes first coached Clijsters when she was 11 and brought her up to the professional ranks before becoming head of women’s tennis for the British Lawn Tennis Association. But last year, after her disappointing French Open, Clijsters asked him to rejoin her team, and he is back to being the head coach after Wim Fissette’s resignation in September.
Maes said he did believe this would really be her last year.
“But having said that, if I look at her tennis — the body is the most tricky part of it — but if I look at her tennis, she could very easily go for two, three, four more years on the tour,” he added.
Asked why she feels the need to set an end date, most likely after the United States Open in September, Clijsters thought for a while.
“It’s for myself, for my husband,” she said. “We want to have that normal life, and he has been very supportive of my career. I was able to support him for those two years when I was at home, and I feel very comfortable in that position. I love my life at home and taking care of Jada and my husband, and we want to have more kids.”
Her husband, Brian Lynch, an American who played basketball at Villanova University, is now coaching the semiprofessional basketball team Cuva Houthalen in one of Belgium’s lower divisions. But Lynch is back in Melbourne with Clijsters, although there are apparently no longer any guarantees that this year will mean the end of the family’s nomadic tennis life.
Jada, who will turn 4 in February, has traveled the world since infancy, toddling around on court during victory ceremonies but expressing little interest in playing the sport.
“She’s never been big into tennis,” Clijsters said. “And yesterday out of the blue, she’s like, ‘Mommy, I want to play tennis, like you!’ So I was like, ‘Wow, O.K.’
“And my husband looked at me and was like, ‘Ohhhhh.’ And he goes, ‘Do you want to travel and then we watch you play?’ And Jada’s like, ‘Yeah.’ ”
Clijsters, chuckling as she told the tale, remembered very well what she said to her daughter next: “Please no.”
2005, 2009, 2010 US Open
2011 Australian Open
Thank You, Kim