Delightful Clijsters begins farewell tour
ABSOLUTELY, positively, definitely this is the last time you will see Kim Clijsters on Australian tennis courts.
- <LI class=byline>Margie McDonald, Sydney International
- January 08, 2007
"This is it -- you'd better believe it," Clijsters said in Sydney yesterday, after stepping off a plane from Hong Kong where she beat Maria Sharapova in the final of an eight-woman exhibition event. The year 2007 will be Clijsters' Farewell Tour to the women's professional circuit, where she first debuted back in 1997, reaching the quarter-finals of an ITF Challenger event in her native Belgium.
It has been a decade of highs and lows since, including being runner-up in four grand slam events before finally winning her first at the 2005 US Open. But although Clijsters has given 100 per cent every season, she says there is nothing that will make her change her decision to retire.
It has already been three years since the delightful young woman known affectionately as 'Aussie Kim' and 'Our Kim' because of her former relationship with Lleyton Hewitt, has played the Medibank International, which began yesterday.
Clijsters withdrew from the tournament last January after straining a hip muscle. She flew straight to Melbourne for treatment to save her Australian Open campaign. She reached the semi-finals but had to retire against Amelie Mauresmo when she rolled her right ankle.
In 2005 Clijsters had not fully recovered from wrist surgery to remove a cyst and did not play in either Sydney or Melbourne.
Reflecting on her time at the top -- Clijsters has only once finished the season outside the top five since 2001 -- she said it was the injuries and time away from home that cemented her retirement plan. She does not know when her last tournament will be but she will be walking down the aisle in July to marry professional basketballer Brian Lynch.
Asked why she was not waiting until her tennis career was over, she said: "It's not just my career, Brian has a career as well. There is not just one person getting married. And I like to get married in the (northern) summer."
That speaks volumes about the way Clijsters operates. In the hurly burly of the professional game, the 23-year-old has always been considerate of others.
But when it comes down to really wanting something, she grits her teeth.
As she will on court over the next few weeks.
"My focus is so much on the tennis stuff, (retiring) doesn't really come to my mind until I'm actually out of the tournament. Then it kind of hits you a bit," Clijsters said.
"As a tennis player you kind of think this life will go on forever but it doesn't. You start looking at the beautiful things of this life that we have. You definitely appreciate the small things and the people that you meet."
When she injured her wrist last August in Montreal and had to withdraw from two special events -- the US Open and Fed Cup final against Italy -- Clijsters thought the curtain may fall then. She had never felt so low.
"That was really hard. I think it was the first time that I was really, really down and disappointed. It takes a few days to get your mind clear and re-focus."
Playing a consistently high standard game has been what drives Clijsters. It is definitely not the associated celebrity status tennis players attract.
"I don't really like the spotlight. I find happiness in a lot of other things. Playing tennis to me is not being a celebrity.
"I love the sport but I'm not the girl who does photo shoots. I think it's great in tennis that we have those girls who enjoy that. They bring in a lot of sponsorship deals and spectators.
"But for me, I like to be the housewife and stay home and cook and take care of my dogs."