Re: 2012 Kim News
Once more with feeling before Kim bows out
January 7, 2012
Kim Clijsters surprised even herself on that memorable 2011 finals night at Rod Laver Arena, but the reason had little to do with her performance against Li Na. It was the "I finally feel like you guys can call me 'Aussie Kim' because I won the title" line during the presentation. Unplanned. Unrehearsed. Unexpected. Even to Clijsters.
"I don't know why I said that!" she laughs now, in a typically candid interview. "People ask me, 'Do you prepare your speech?' I'm like 'No! No way!' Because I think that when you do things like that it will actually go against you, when you think 'I'm going to win'.
"So I was like 'Ooh, what did I say?' But everybody's always like 'Aussie Kim, Aussie Kim', and I was like 'OK, now maybe you can have a little bit of me'."
A next-to-last little bit, as it happens, for Clijsters still intends to re-retire later this year. The original plan was to farewell the game at the London Olympics, but the chance for a fourth US Open title in September remains tempting, and there have also been suggestions of a cosy finale at a smaller event after that - Luxembourg, perhaps. The only thing that is certain is that there will be no next year.
Nothing else is definite, "and that's why, in a way, I don't think about it at all now," says Clijsters, 28. "OK, I said the Olympics is what I want to achieve. That's what I said when I decided to come back a few years ago, but I still don't know. I'm going to [play] it by ear. I have the luxury to do that, and not having to worry about what my ranking is, or money or those kind of things. It's how I feel, and that's in a way nice to have that luxury to do that."
Clijsters' first plan in retirement is to give almost-four-year-old Jada a sibling, yet her body, like Hewitt's, has faltered over the home stretch. Last night a hip injury forced her out of the Brisbane International semi-final when a set up against Daniela Hantuchova, throwing her Open title defence into doubt.
Clijsters had left Melbourne Park on a high, and completed a successful Fed Cup tie for Belgium when it all began to unravel. In February, she reclaimed the No. 1 ranking from Caroline Wozniacki for a week, but it was also in Paris that she suffered an extended period of neck pain, then wrist, shoulder and ankle injuries, and finally an abdominal problem that flared in August, scuppered her US Open defence and limited her to just eight tournaments for the year.
"Everything just kind of went downhill, which was a very frustrating few months," she says. "I was every time able to just get over it, and find the strength to just regroup and practise, but every time I got back, it wasn't really with the full motivation and there was always that little bit of frustration."
Does she have it now? "Yeah, yeah, I do. Due to a few little changes that have happened, I think, in the last few months, I do feel like I've found a new kind of motivation and new interest in just improving as a tennis player overall again, and I think that was very important - to have a good pre-season where you work physically on the weaknesses, but also on the tennis weaknesses and kind of find your game and where you feel good."
Clijsters reinstated her former coach Carl Maes in September, ending a successful collaboration with Wim Fissette, but admits there were times she wondered if she should simply abandon the idea of a 2012 return, and retreat quietly and permanently to her home in Bree a little earlier than expected.
"There were definitely moments where I was like, 'Oh, maybe, maybe it's supposed to be this way. Maybe I've had a good second career and maybe this is it,'" she admits. "But then there was always something that felt like 'No, I don't want to quit like this, I don't want to quit because of an injury.' Which doesn't mean that I feel like I need to quit, winning a grand slam or something, but I want to kind of feel like I've done everything, I've tried everything, and then kind of finished in my way - not all of a sudden because of an injury.
"And also towards my group, my trainer [Sam Verslegers], I would like to end on a good note and that whole chapter I've lived with the last few years, on a high, emotionally. It would be great if it would be with a tournament you do well at, but if not, still knowing that we've done everything we could and we've made a few sacrifices. To know that you've given it all is important, I think, when you decide to stop."
Now ranked No. 13, Clijsters was able to return to Brisbane this year, as the upgraded tournament now has an unrestricted women's field. The result is that she will skip next week's Sydney International, where she was a finalist last year, to head straight to Melbourne, where Clijsters and her husband, Brian Lynch, and their families will settle into a spacious riverside suite.
Indeed, climbing into bed on her first night last year, she could see Rod Laver Arena through the window and, unusually, "something clicked and I was like, 'OK, I'm on a mission'."
As defending champion, it will be subtly different this time, but Clijsters hopes to implement the lessons learnt from her successful 2010 US Open experience on how best to manage the additional week-before obligations and distractions. Otherwise, Clijsters has always loved the interaction and appreciates the reception from the crowd at a place and tournament she says with her usual warmth have "always been very special for me".
And yet, as the Belgian prepares for her final Australian Open, she still has not managed to celebrate last year's three-set success.
After the moment with her entourage that she always finds the most special after a big title ("For me it's never match point; I always feel kind of uncomfortable afterwards because you're just there alone"), and her many media obligations were finally completed, Clijsters and her husband joined the doubles-winning Bryan brothers on what turned out to be a fruitless early-morning wander through Melbourne's quiet streets.
"We tried to look for a place where we could go out, but a lot of things were closed, and so we ended up going to the casino or something but I was like, 'Oh, this is not how I want to celebrate,'" she laughs. "So we always joke with the Bryan brothers 'OK, when we have the time, whether it's this year, or in Miami, or somewhere, we need to go out and celebrate the right way'."
Still, at least the on-court part of an emotional evening went nicely as planned. Or, for the woman who was bemused to find herself spontaneously embracing her ''Aussie'' alter-ego before a vast worldwide audience, most of it, anyway.