From The Times
May 15, 2009
Kim Clijsters excited by return to the circuit
Neil Harman Tennis Correspondent
It is not often that a wild card into Wimbledon is rebuffed, however polite the refusal. When Tim Phillips, the chairman of the All England Club, saw Kim Clijsters in the grounds yesterday, he asked if she would like to play in the championships this year as a special invitee, but she is not ready just yet.
On Sunday, the Belgian will gladly participate in the celebration designed to raise the Centre Court roof. That will be enough nervous excitement on a grass court for a while.
The former world No 1 has barely spoken about her return to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, announced just over a year after the birth of Jade, her daughter, and four months since the death of Leo, her father and spiritual mentor. The plan is for the 25-year-old to recommence competition in Cincinnati in August before the US Open, the lone grand-slam title she won in 2005. But it is a decision she would not have come to had she been so contented by motherhood, if her father had beaten the cancer and, imperatively, had the invitation to this weekend’s jolly not arrived, out of the blue.
“It is true to say the ‘click’ came when Wimbledon asked if I would play in the roof celebration,” Clijsters said. “I had been hitting a few balls but nothing serious. I was trying to get my mind back together after a year spent constantly caring for my father. I wish, of course, he could have lived for another ten years or more, but when he passed away I wanted to get back on court and see how it felt.
“When the call came, I had something to work towards, I needed to get back into shape, to set a few goals. Then I discovered I was actually enjoying it. Of course, this would not be possible without the support of Brian, my husband, and neither of us know how we’re going to cope, travelling again, living out of an hotel. When I played before, I did everything that was convenient for me. Now I have other people to consider. It is about striking the balance between being a wife, a mother and a tennis player.”
Clijsters had maintained a dialogue with Lindsay Davenport, the former world No 1 and Wimbledon champion, who also “retired” to have a baby, mostly sending messages about dealing with pregnancy and exchanging baby photos. The conversation began to become a touch more serious when a return to the tour developed into a viable option.
“A lot of questions popped into my mind, mostly about rules and regulations, how much I’d need to play, who might I turn to for help, how much at ease I would feel about coming back,” Clijsters said. “I never used to be much of a planner, I took everything pretty much as it came, but now there’s when to eat, when to sleep, when to feed.
“I don’t want to be seen as a powerful woman who is doing anything superhuman, but it is nice to show it is possible to have children and still have a professional sports career. The old-fashioned image is of a mother staying at home to take care of the children, but things are changing. I know there will be a lot of attention because of the career I had and I suppose people are bound to compare. I’m just intrigued as to how much I’ll enjoy it.
“In the 2˝ years I have been away, I was married, fell pregnant, my daughter was born, my dad became sick. I didn’t have a chance to miss it. I would not change much of what has happened, I was so happy my dad got to see his grandchild, that was very special. I got to read James Blake’s book [Breaking Back - How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life], which talks so vividly about how he coped with the loss of his father. It was incredible to find out so much more about someone I saw a lot but didn’t really know at all.”
One thing for sure is that Clijsters’s return will be an energising fillip for the women’s game, one struggling for headline talents and dominated, in the present cycle, by the men and their marvels, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. The smile on everyone’s face when Clijsters’s return is mentioned is enough of an indication of her universal esteem.
The initial steps on Centre Court on Sunday will be tentative, and she accepts that. “The court looked beautiful today and the roof is unlike any other I have seen,” she said. “In Australia, it felt as if the world was closing in on you, but there is so much natural light under this roof, you don’t feel as if you are under cover at all.”