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Clijsters puts on her thinking cap

By Matthew Cronin
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Siggi Bucher

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD – Second-ranked Kim Clijsters of Belgium is about as jockish as they come: She likes playing sports; she likes watching sports; in her free time, she likes to play some more sports.

Her boyfriend, two-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt, is a tennis player; her father, Leo, was a world class soccer player.

That's why it's been amazing over the past five years to see her evolve from a natural athlete with incredible speed and power to a thinking women's tennis player. She's reached No. 2 spot in the world because she has a much deeper understanding of how to play and now not only can run past opponents, but can also read their tendencies midway through a contest, switch it up on them.

That's what happened in the quarterfinals Friday, when Clijsters picked up which Swiss teenager Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian was leaning on her return of serve and how she was freezing her with down the middle blasts. She overcame a shaky start and flew into the semifinals with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 win.

"It was looking for the right position on the court," said Clijsters, who will play another thinking player, Italy's Francesca Schiavone, in the semifinals. "I started hitting more returns to the lines and that's where she has trouble moving from her service position over to the sidelines. She expects to go crosscourt and when you wrong foot her, she's surprised. A few times she couldn't even react. That's what I was noticing."



© Mark Lyons
Clijsters is serving harder and smarter than she was a year ago, adding a significant slice second serve down the middle to her normal kick serve out wide. She can't bomb it like the Williams sisters, but can crank it up to the 112-mph range, just six miles an hour short of Serena. She still needs to improve her serve into the body and add more spin to her kicker, but by serving smarter and is able to stave off what is the most feared shot in the women's tennis: the return of serve. Clijsters read Mikaelian like she was ingesting a treatise on the future of the European Economic Community.

"She was moving too one side and try to make me go into her backhand," Clijsters said. "She would cover the forehand more and then do the split step to lean to her backhand and then her forehand was open. It was a matter of mixing it up more. It's good mentally to make other player think."

FANTASTIC YEAR
Since she fell in a titanic 10-8 in the third set final to Jennifer Capriati at the '01 Roland Garros, Clijsters has mostly been a spectacular performer, racking up 11 titles and snaring wins over every member of the top five. But this year, Clijsters has compiled a 53-7 record and won four titles. She has only lost to one player outside of the top 4: Ai Sugiyama back in February in the Scottsdale final. (Other losses are No. 1 Serena, No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne and No. 4 Venus)

"It's a matter of having the experience and noticing more things and getting more mature tennis wise," she said. "That's the big difference for me over the last year and a half. Now I notice things and can tell my coach [Marc Dehous] what's happening and I can make matches turn around because I can see things better and change tactics."

Clijsters watches plenty of Hewitt's contests and will even turn on the TV and take a gander at other players when she's not playing. But, like many players, Clijsters doesn't like to watch videotapes of herself playing. She doesn't want any negative images dancing in her head.

"It's over," she said. "There's nothing. That's what my coach is there for, to tell me what went wrong. I know what I did well and if I did something wrong, I'll work on it. But you have to be open to accept those things. You don't want to forget everything straight-away because the next time you have a chance to play that particular player, you have to keep a lot of things in mind."

Clijsters hasn't always adjusted well in big matches, which is why she's now has the ignominious title of being the best player not to have won a Grand Slam. The last player to reach No. 2 and never have won a have won a Slam was Andrea Jaegar in 1981 and she had none of Clijsters' added bonuses: sheer brawn and speed. Jaegar was an excellent thinker but didn't always play instinctually, which is something that Clijsters has always done well. She realizes that one she gets up against the elite players, she can think all she wants, but also needs to let it rip. If she happens to face third seed Jennifer Capriati in Sunday's final, that's exactly what she'll have to do.

"It's just a matter of who's more aggressive from the start of the rally," Clijsters said. "Especially against Venus and Serena, who have raised women's tennis. When I'm playing the top players, I feel like I have to go for the lines because if I don't do it, they will."

Now there's a thought for you.
 

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"Since she fell in a titanic 10-8 in the third set final to Jennifer Capriati at the '01 Roland Garros"

12-10 :rolleyes:
 

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Team WTAworld, Senior Member
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Matthew Cronin said:
That's what happened in the quarterfinals Friday, when Clijsters picked up which Swiss teenager Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian was leaning on her return of serve and how she was freezing her with down the middle blasts.
Did Clijsters have double vision or something or did MGM have her identical twin sister out there on the court with her?
 

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NeverWoz
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Very interesting article that shows Kim picking up a lot of things from MGM's positioning. Very nicely written article as well with exception of one or two mistakes.
 
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