Clijsters Savoring Last Year on Tour
By STEVEN WINE
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - Kim Clijsters has eased up on her tournament routine, making more time for shopping and nice meals in each city she visits. It's a sort of phased retirement.
The 23-year-old former U.S. Open champion plans to call it quits and focus on family after playing an abbreviated schedule this year. The latest stop on her farewell tour is Key Biscayne for the Sony Ericsson Open, which began Wednesday.
Seeded players received a first-round bye, and the No. 4-seeded Clijsters will likely play her opening match Friday. She's among the favorites and optimistic she'll do well, but she plans to have fun regardless.
"The relaxing time is not so much focused on my tennis anymore, she said. "My sister and best friend are here, and I'm doing a lot more things. When I was younger I would always just stay in my hotel room and rest. I didn't want to spend energy to go shopping or something. But that has changed."
Plagued by injuries in recent years, Clijsters plans to marry American basketball player Brian Lynch on July 14 in her hometown of Bree, Belgium. She'll skip the French Open to prepare for the wedding, and she said this week she may miss the U.S. Open because of the honeymoon.
That could make Key Biscayne her biggest remaining U.S. event. She won the title in 2005 and has a favorable draw, with top-seeded Maria Sharapova, three-time champion Serena Williams, three-time champion Venus Williams and defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the opposite half.
"I'm definitely not playing these tournaments just to say goodbye," said Clijsters, who won the Sydney title in January. "Winning in Sydney was a great feeling. Obviously when you can play a tournament for the last time and be there until the last day, that's the perfect scenario.
"I know it's not going to be like that every week. But so far things have been going really well for me this year. I'm not playing that much, but I feel good."
Winners on the first day of play included 14-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal, who beat American Meghann Shaughnessy 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3). The teen will next face No. 16-seeded Daniela Hantuchova, who won Indian Wells last week.
The Key Biscayne tournament has a new name _ it was formerly the Nasdaq-100 Open. It also has a new look, with purple courts for a more vibrant appearance.
"I think it's good," said third-seeded Andy Roddick, who plays his opening match Friday. "I think it is easier to watch on television, at least."
In men's first-round play, Gael Monfils lost to Simone Bolelli 6-4, 6-2. On the women's side, Akiko Morigami beat Aleksandra Wozniak 6-1, 7-5 and will play Clijsters in the second round.
This is only Clijsters' fourth tournament this year. She won Sydney, lost to Sharapova in the semifinals at the Australian Open and, in her last match in Belgium, lost an emotional final a month ago to Amelie Mauresmo at Antwerp.
"I cried every fluid out of my body," said Clijsters, who nonetheless remembers the experience fondly. "I couldn't have wished for a better farewell. It was a great experience."
Clijsters has always been a good loser, the flip side being she's accused of lacking a killer instinct. She climbed to the No. 1 ranking in 2003 but lost four Grand Slam finals before her breakthrough at the 2005 U.S. Open, where she beat Mary Pierce for the championship.
Clijsters said tournament titles are nice _ she has won 34 _ but now she's more interested in starting a family. She's the oldest of 13 cousins on her mother's side and has always enjoyed baby-sitting.
"I think at the U.S. Open, the nursery is the most relaxing place to be," she said. "It's so relaxing just to hang out with the children. ... I feel very comfortable with this decision."
That's why she can walk away from a career that allowed her to earn nearly $15 million in prize money. She understands that her many fans might find the decision difficult to accept.
"I know what I want," she said. "But it's funny _ people are already asking me if I'm thinking about a comeback. I haven't even retired yet."