Clijsters and Molik take collision path
January 4, 2010
ALICIA Molik believes only the presence of a baby stroller distinguishes the Kim Clijsters she knew during both players' first tennis incarnation to the new-model Clijsters she will meet in the second round of the Brisbane International.
Clijsters' win yesterday was her first in Australia since 2007; Molik's was her first at tour-level, anywhere, since January, 2008.
''[Clijsters] plays the same style of tennis, smiles just as much, and she has a husband and a gorgeous little girl; that's probably the only difference,'' said Molik, after her 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 defeat of Russian Ekaterina Makarova marked her successful WTA return. ''Still playing great, great tennis.''
If Clijsters was expected to beat unseeded Italian Tathiana Garbin, and did so 6-2, 6-1, then Molik is coming from considerably further behind. The Belgian retired while close to the top of the game, while Molik had been struggling with injury and desire for some time before retiring after the Beijing Olympics.
In March, she started hitting again, at first, just for fun. But, by August, she was ready to return, soon-to-be inspired by Clijsters' stunning US Open triumph, while herself starting in the more modest surrounds of the secondary ITF circuit, but nevertheless turning her unranked status into a spot back inside 200 while accumulating the vital match practice she had lacked.
Yesterday's, though, was another level entirely, against an opponent ranked 60th in the world. There were some shaky moments, a lapse in the second set and five break points to be saved late in the third, but her elation and satisfaction afterwards were obvious.
''It has been a long time,'' said Molik, 28, and ranked 190 places below her career high. ''This is what it's all about. Playing the pro tours was a stepping stone to getting to this level. I don't think I would have won today had I not had the results I've had the last three months.
''But today is what it's all about, and tomorrow, or the following day, is what it's all about as well. I play Kim, I believe.
''We haven't played for a number of years now, but she's the form player on tour and that's the type of player you really want to match your game up against, and who better to play at this time of year? You get a really good gauge, I think, of where you're at.''
Molik and Clijsters first played when they were 14, and two of the sport's more popular figures built a strong friendship, even though the occasional doubles partners played the last of their only two senior matches back in 2002, and Clijsters won both.
Both say they are thrilled to have the other back in the game.
''I'm really, really happy to see her back,'' said Clijsters.
''She's always been one of the most down-to-earth people on tour and a girl that I played doubles with in the past sometimes as well. We grew up almost, playing together, and I know her really well.
''She's one of those players when you see them again you just get a good vibe and that was definitely the case with her.''
If the presence of fellow unretired Belgian Justine Henin adds to the tournament's retro feel, then Clijsters continues to eschew the current fashion for skimpy dresses and cutaway tops to stick with the trusty polo-and-skirt combination that she has favoured throughout her career.
And there is much else that remains from her previous Australian visit in 2007, including the formidable power off the ground and gymnastics-like baseline movement, even if her serve lacked rhythm at times and she missed several routine overheads that would usually be certain winners.
Yet the top seed was broken only once, in a scratchy first game that contained four double faults, and found her groove soon enough against the 59th-ranked Garbin who, at 31, is the oldest woman in the field.
''Obviously there's a few details that can always get better, but I think for a first match it's been a while for me since Luxembourg, so it was just a nice feeling to be out there again,'' Clijisters said.
''I felt like my groundstrokes were going good, I felt like I was really standing on top of my baseline and really changing up the direction of the rallies and I think that was a good feeling.
''The smashes could have been a little better, but I'm really happy that I'm here because it really makes the transition to Melbourne a little bit easier, I think.''