Burdened with beating Serena--Clijsters article
Burdened with beating Serena
By Greg Garber
PARIS -- Two years ago, Kim Clijsters -- still a sweet 17 -- somehow played her way into the French Open final.
Kim Clijsters is the woman Serena Williams most needs to watch out for.
"It's pretty funny," the extroverted Belgian said Saturday. "A lot of people coming into the French, they ask me about that final, what I remember of it. Actually, I don't really remember anything. I think I was just in a dream world that day.
"I was just enjoying it so much. Although I lost, it was such a great experience, something that I'll always treasure."
Indeed, Clijsters lost to Jennifer Capriati -- their 12-10 third set was the longest ever for a women's final at Roland Garros -- but her memories remain precious. This year, two weeks from her 20th birthday, there is an added dimension to her sensory experience.
Oh, to be in love in Paris in the spring.
Clijsters, you see, is here with her boyfriend. She has found time to go shopping along the Seine -- pricey handbags are her chief weakness -- and have a few nice meals in what she calls the world's "most romantic city."
All of this escapism is lovely and, in terms of maintaining good mental health, absolutely necessary.
For Clijsters is carrying a huge burden. At Roland Garros, she is the chosen one, the woman given the best chance to prevent Serena Williams from winning a fifth consecutive Grand Slam title.
It shouldn't have come to this, really. Clijsters could have, should have ended Williams' run at three back at the Australian Open. She led William 5-1 in the third set of their semifinal only to collapse into a pile of smoking rubble.
"You never know -- that's tennis," Clijsters said when the subject came up last week. "Of course it was a disappointment and for the first few days it was pretty hard, but then when I went back home and saw my new dog and everything was better.
"So you just forget about those things and you get a new chance and that's what makes tennis so fun because there's always another chance to try to do well." Clijsters and that boyfriend, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, had a nearly perfect first week here. Clijsters, the No 2 seem among women manhandled Paolo Suarez 6-2, 6-1 in a tidy 64 minutes and is perfect in three matches. Hewitt, the No. 1-seeded man, was a set away from joining her in the round of 16 but lost his lead and fell in five sets to Tommy Robredo of Spain on Saturday.
While her attention occasionally wandered in the first two rounds, she was locked in against the Spanish player, the No. 31 seed.
"I felt like I had to play a lot better," Clijsters said. "And I did. I started playing really well from the beginning of the match and kept her under pressure. That was definitely what I wanted to keep doing and keep working on."
There was a small hiccough, though. Suarez broke Clijsters in the fifth game when she started throwing up moon balls as a change of pace. And then Suarez held serve when Clijsters sprayed a few balls long. But that was that. Aside from one slip in the second set, a 16-point game on Suarez' serve, Clijsters was steady. By coincidence, both Hewitt and Clijsters played their matches early in the week at roughly the same time. That's OK, Clijsters explained, because she gets too nervous watching Hewitt. This way, they get more free time together. But since they are both expected to reach the semifinals, there hasn't been too much of that. While she is clearly happy to be here, Clijsters beamed as she described her holidays in Australia at the end of the year where she can "sort of forget about everything."
Clijsters already has equaled last year's Grand Slam quota of one semifinal; from here on out, it's all good. There are more than a few tennis aficionados here who believe she's got enough game to beat Venus Williams in the semis and then Serena in the final -- as she did in back-to-back wins at the WTA Championships last year in Los Angeles, albeit Venus was injured. Although Clijsters is a powerful player, the Williams sisters bring a little more heat from the baseline, so the clay helps to level the field. Fluid movement is critical on clay, and even at 5-foot-8, 150 pounds, Clijsters moves extraordinarily well. Since losing to Serena Williams in the semifinals at Miami, Clijsters has won 14 of 15 matches on clay. Her only loss was to fellow countrywoman Justine Henin-Hardenne in the Berlin final, but she ripped through the field a week later in Rome, beating Amelie Mauresmo 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-0 in the final. "It was my first outdoor clay win that I've had," Clijsters noted. "So that definitely makes you feel a lot more comfortable and motivates you, especially getting into a Grand Slam. A Grand Slam is always a different tournament, so many things can happen. But that was great, knowing that I'm capable of doing it.
"I don't think clay is the best surface for my game but, you know, I can manage my way."