I managed to get this over with (my fault entirely
, and Lei's
First of all, this is a team effort by Mark (aka Lynx), Annick (aka Nicky), Marly and myself.
So thank you Mark, Annick and Marly for the great work!
(kisses, Belgian style )
Elke has been involved too, but she had the set-back of loosing her work due to circumstances Thanks Elke
though for her efforts to do her part of this huge text, hugs and kisses!
I'll post the interview in parts, as it is way too long otherwise.
And... therefore please check the lounge each day.
(yes, I know, marketing tricks, I admit I'm guilty of that too
Anyway, here we go:
PART 1 of this loooong interview
Source: Humo, January 21, 2003
Lei, father and guardian angel of Kim Clijsters
“Sometimes she jumps on my neck like a little girl. Just like old times.”
By Luc Kempen,
part 1: transl. by Ingrid, and ed. Marly
The weeds are almost knee high on the tennis court that Lei Clijsters had laid out in his backyard when he won the Golden Shoe in 1988. His daughters have hardly set foot there the past five years, and he himself can’t remember his last game. While Kim is storming through the first week of the Australian Open under the approving eye of mama, Lei is taking care of the three dogs. Elke, the younger sister of Kim, became 18 the past weekend and is now a full-time tennis pro too. After her birthday party she immediately left for London to play the qualifications of a modest tournament. ‘Kim also started at the bottom’, recalls dad. ‘But almost immediately she won a tournament in Sheffield and made such a big jump in the world rankings that she could already play her big idol Steffi Graf at Wimbledon. In two year’s time we’ll see how far Elke is, and whether she is hungry enough to do everything for it.’
Humo: What do you think yourself?
Lei: ‘I don’t know. I regularly see her practising and I think then: she has talent. But she also enjoys the good things in life. Honestly, I like that just as much. She isn’t the type that goes to bed at 10 the whole week because she has to play an important match the next week. Kim was totally different at that age: she could hardly afford such a lifestyle back then. She was also already with Lleyton at 17.’
THE tennis couple of the 21st century is near the pinnacle of its fame. While Hewitt has been leading the men’s world rankings for more than a year, Kim is slowly catching sight of Venus, the older of the Williams sisters. You haven’t missed noticing it either, reader. A battery of the wise is counting the ballots of Humo’s Pop Poll de Luxe under severe security in the basement of the Humo-building. Nothing about it may leak out, except that Kim Clijsters is going to win the ‘Woman of the Year’ and ‘Sportsperson of the Year’ medals. While our chief-editor is swimming to Australia to tell her the good news, we are off –preferring to be lazy instead of being tired – to Bree.
Humo: Last week the VRT news [note: Flemish public TV station] had an item about Kim’s autograph session in Melbourne. Can you see from these thousands of miles apart whether she likes to do it?
Lei: ‘I haven’t seen that topic, but I can tell from her daily phone calls how she is feeling. She then sits in the dressing room and we simply talk for two minutes, sometimes to control the nerves, sometimes simply to break the silence. She herself will never say that she needs me, but I hear it immediately when something is wrong. Sometimes I think: ‘Now I have to go to her immediately’. But that has happened only once so far.
Last year, when Carl Maes just had stopped and Kim didn’t have a new coach yet, we, the two of us, travelled through California for four weeks. Such a long period so closely together was good for us both. There she made the base for her excellent fall, and I had the time to have long chats with her, and to get to know my daughter – because she stays that in the first place - a bit better again.’
Humo: What do you do together?
Lei: ‘Still ordering room service at 10 PM and watching a film during dinner; these kinds of things make it cosy. Seeds are sometimes absurdly spoiled during tournaments, so when there was a very good dessert unexpectedly delivered to her room, she immediately tapped on the wall because she can’t eat that anyway.
She had a lot of doubts during that period though. She hadn’t been able to fully practise for half a year because of that shoulder injury; Carl had gone his own way; and Lleyton, who had been staying with us for a while, was at the other end of the world again. She was very vulnerable.’
Humo: It was, in fact, the very first time in her career that she was in such a dip.
Lei: ‘Yes. Moreover, the media was asking more and more questions about her declining results. She had never gone through such thing, huh.’
Humo: After she had lost to an unknown Slovenian in Rosmalen, she herself said: ’If I am still in the top ten at the end of the year, it will be good’.
Lei: ‘In the end, the pain in her shoulder was unendurable. We just had decided not to let her have surgery, because doctors only gave her a 35% chance of total recovery. Patrick Rafter had to quit tennis because of an identical injury. In consultation with Dr. De Clercq, we drastically reduced her schedule: no Fed Cup, no doubles... That was a heavy blow to her, also because she had to rest after the Australian Open, and hadn’t been able to get a decent serve during practice sessions for months.’
Hallo, with dog.
Humo: Last year, during the Australian Open, she was already playing fully in pain, but she still reached the semis. What do you do at such a time?
Lei: ‘Before the start of the Australian Open, I told her: ‘Stop with it!’ But she didn’t want to hear of it. I do understand that, though: you’re playing in the country of your boyfriend, where sports means so much more than here [in Belgium] and the public is devoted to her. What sports person of 18 then says: ’I will listen to my body and won’t play?’ She had to play Justine Henin in the quarters. ‘Papa, I will stop after Justine’, she said, without realizing she was putting her body on the line. During that period she couldn’t even move her arm the day after a match. She was really at the limit there. Now she would make her conclusions faster: she has had way too much pain the past year.’
Humo: Does it take a lot to convince her at such times?
Lei: ‘Yes, but she has learned a few things. If the pain really becomes too much, she will stop. I also have impressed upon her to never take sedatives, because that’s treacherous. I know myself: you feel the adrenaline going and don’t think of the pain.’
Humo: The ranking system forces a player to defend her points. Is she also dragged along by it?
Lei: ‘No, Kim doesn’t think about it. She wants to play because tennis itself is so dear to her, and she doesn’t want to disappoint the people.’
Humo: Tennis no longer a game at her level, isn't it?
Lei: (sighs) ‘Why don’t I have this explained to you? Last week, when Capriati lost in the first round, I heard on the news that Kim might become world number three soon. Do you think that we have talked about that for a second with each other?’
Humo: She is a top sportsperson, and in top sports only the first place matters.
Lei: ‘That is not our philosophy. You should have seen her reaction when Lleyton became world number one. ‘And so what’, she said, and shrugged her shoulders. We all know that Justine Henin dreams of that first place, but she’ll have a very big problem if she does ever reach that spot, because then she’ll want to avoid becoming second again. Kim mainly thinks about enjoying herself.’
Humo: Is that a wishful dream of a father who sees his girls slowly becoming adults, or do you really notice that she is still the same person of five years ago?
Lei: ‘Of course. I see how she doesn’t let an opportunity to tease her coach Marc Dehous pass, and when she was playing the Hopman Cup with Xavier Malisse, the fun was a reflection of her.’
Humo: But that’s also a tournament where a victory hardly matters.
Lei: ‘Maybe so. She doesn’t like to lose of course, but after an hour she has already forgotten it. I don’t think she has been awake for a minute in her life because of a defeat. (laughs) If she calls me now, she especially wants to hear the little dog that she got for a present some months ago in Charleroi.’
Humo: She’ll be 20 in June, but has she in fact remained a girl?
Lei: ‘Not always. When I can talk to her for a long time like last year in the States, I feel that she has become an adult woman. She takes clear positions and analyses her situation perfectly. She indicates very clearly what kind of coach she wants, and which jobs she will or will not accept. I still remember how she was already talking about the Masters then, which were only three months later. She wanted to be in LA early to have as few jetlag troubles as possible. Then she thinks like a pro.
But she can just as well hit a ball at my head when I am reading the newspaper alongside the practice court: ’Pay attention, papa!’ Or outside the stadium, just like in the old times, to jump on my neck. I hope that she won’t lose that carelessness. Otherwise, how do you dare to address an entire stadium in Paris in French as an 18 year-old girl? When you think too much about what you do, you won’t even do it.
Although it wouldn’t earn her anything, she would still play tennis every day, I think. She doesn’t play for points or to become the number one in the world. She plays tennis because she enjoys it.’
Humo: How long can she keep doing that?
Lei: ‘All that travelling, and the fact that she often has to miss Lleyton for more than a month, may become too much for her one day. Maybe she will also be forced to stop because her body won’t allow it any more. But travelling is especially nerve-wracking. She is continuously on the road with six huge bags. When Lleyton and Kim come to Belgium, we have to push twelve bags into that big Mitsubishi and before Els has even washed and ironed everything, they are already on the road to another tournament. It’s obvious these two can’t continue such a life for years.’