Family Comes First For Kim

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Cross Sports Journalist off the list of potential careers for Kim Clijsters. When asked tonight, she gave a very quick, no.

“I definitely read the press in my first few years that I was on tour, and then I completely ignored the press,” Clijsters said.  Also because positive, negative, I didn’t want it to get to me.  It did when I was younger whether there was negative press, positive press.”

Well she will have plenty of time to decide after her second round loss to Brittan’s Laura Robson, 7-6 7-6, because that’s it for the three-time US Open Champion as she calls it a career.

“Now that I’m almost completely finished, you think about when I first stepped on tour, you know and met Steffi Graf and Monica Seles,” she said.  “First in Belgium when I was able to practice in a tennis center against Sabine Appelmans and Dominique Monami.

“It’s been an incredible journey, and a lot of dreams for me have come true because of tennis.  As a little girl, I got tennis racquets under the tree and outfits of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles and I would want to wear them to bed I was so excited.

“So for me to have been able to have been a part of women’s tennis, and on top of women’s tennis for so many years, now that I think back ‑‑ you know, you don’t think about it when you’re in it.  You’re kind of on automatic pilot.  You don’t think about those things anyway.

“Now that I think about it, it’s been a crazy rollercoaster at times, as well.  All of a sudden when you’re 15, you kind of get thrown in the spotlight, you go through puberty in the spotlight, you have your first boyfriend in the spotlight, you know, everything.

“It’s not just the tennis side of things that you think about now, it’s about life.  We’ve had a lot of things happen in these last 15 years that I’ve been on tour.  I’m able to look back at them, and I’m very happy with the progress that I’ve made.”

And what a career it has been. Three US Open Champions (2005, 2009, 2010), one Australian Open Championship (2011) and two French Open Finals (2001, 2003) and add to that two doubles majors at the French and Wimbledon in 2003. She, of course retied once and came back looking better than ever.

More importantly, though she goes out on her terms, as she retires for the second and final (we think) time.

She is obviously an all-time great up there with her contemporaries like the Williams sisters and Justine Henin, and and even can be compared with  her idols like Graf and Seles, who inspired her to become a tennis player.

“I hate to lose,” she said. “ My husband and I, we play ping‑pong in our garage and I don’t even want to give him a point.  I hate to lose, but I’m very aware or I understand and appreciate when you have an opponent who’s playing really well and plays good tennis.

“I always try to be better than my opponent.  I always try to find a solution to try and win a match, but I was also aware or understood that, you know, players can be better than you on the day.

“Losses have always motivated me more to go back.  I have a little gym in my basement downstairs.  Even when I was supposed to take a few days off, I would go into the gym and just run and do intervals and workouts to try and be better next time after a loss.”

But not this time. With her daughter Jada getting older and going to school, the travelling is just too much. Clijsters wants to be a good mother and there for her child while growing up. It makes it difficult to do that and go out on tour.

That’s may be her greatest legacy. The wins are one thing, but to balance being a mother, staying in shape after giving birth and coming back even stronger puts her in the echelon of Margaret Court.

“When I hear it, it is special, and I feel proud that I was able to win a slam as a mother, just because I know how much work it took after I had Jada to get back physically, tennis‑wise, and mentally to get back into the sport,” she mused.

“On the other hand, I never thought about that when I was playing.  You know, there were moments that it was hard.  Especially when I first started coming on tour it was hard to find the balance between figuring out ‑‑ when I was home, I was still working out, practicing hard, but I was 100% mom.

“If Jada was sick, I would call up and say, I need to be home now.  During a tournament, I can’t call the tournament director and say, Hey, can you move my match because I need to be home for Jada or something.

“Again, you know, you have a team that you work with.  Nicole, our nanny, has been maybe the most important member of our team because she’s given me so much comfort knowing that my daughter was with somebody I trust.

“When I want Brian to watch me play, Jada is with her.  Whether they’re in the hotel or sitting somewhere in the stadium, it’s so comforting knowing that she’s okay.  Knowing that, that’s when I’m able to play tennis and go to practice.  It got a little bit easier for me to leave home when she started going to school because I didn’t have to feel that guilty of leaving her behind when I had to go to practice.

“It’s been tough at times, too.  As a mother, you feel guilty if something happens that you can’t be there, good things or bad things.  Unfortunately, those kind of things have been there.

“On the other hand, I know with our lifestyle I’m maybe more with her than parents who work hard and who work from 9:00 to 5:00.

“But, yeah, I think as a parent you always feel like you miss out on things or feel a little bit guilty and you want to do better and be the perfect parent.”

That’s why she is leaving. She was smart enough to know the window was closing to play professional tennis and now her life becomes her family.

At the age of 29, she made the smartest decision of them all, to be a full time mother.

She will be missed at the Open.





A Tougher Wickmayer In Melbourne

If Yanina Wickmayer was a feel good story at the US Open, then in Melbourne, she should be a sentimental favorite.

After serving about a little over two months of a year-long suspension for failing to fill out her whereabouts to the Flemish anti-doping tribunal, the 20 year-old was able to get back on the court when her appeal was upheld.

Yet, it meant she had to qualify for the Australian Open, something the “tougher” Wickmayer did with ease.

“Well, I’m 16 in the world, so I think I should be main draw,” said Wickmayer after she won her first round match against Alexandra Dulgheru, 1-6 7-5, 10-8. “I mean, I’ve asked myself that question a lot of times. I knew I was going to have to play quallies. I knew it a couple of weeks before, so I could prepare myself for the qualifying matches, which was, in a way, positive. I knew I was going to play them and I could prepare myself mentally.

“Had a great preparation in Auckland and was playing well. I had a good few matches here. I rather had them in Sydney, but I had them here. When I played them, I really enjoyed being on court, and I just played my matches the way I wanted to play them. It all came out good. “

Things were going so well for Wickmayer in Flushing, losing in the Semifinals to Caroline Wozniacki and she was only going to get better.

Then October happened and she was given a one-year suspension because the Belgium native failed to fill out the whereabouts forms online, which she said was because the anti-doping tribunal failed to provide her with the password.

Yet, she appealed her suspension – along with Xavier Malisse, who also got a year for the same reason – and it was overturned in December.

Every positive, Wickmayer sees this as a growing experience.

“You know, it was a tough time,” she said. “I’ve been through a tough time. It was tough for me not knowing when I was going to play again, not knowing what the future will bring.

“But I kept on practicing, working hard, and trying to put a goal for myself. I was really happy to be back on court. I had a great week last week, won my first title of the year, and played some great matches in the qualifying, which I really enjoyed playing.

“It was tough, but I think it made me strong. Yeah, it made me a little tougher maybe. Today was a tough fight again. It’s only good mentally to get stronger and get tougher also as a person and an athlete. It just makes you stronger.”

She will need her new found strength to get through this Open. Even though a top 16 player, as a Wild Card, she will get some tough draws early on, with No. 12 seed Flavia Pennetta up next in the second round.

Yet, Wickmayer is just happy to be on the court, especially as a Non-Australian qualifier.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen when I got suspended,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be here. But then when I hear I could play again, I got a wild card in Auckland, which was great. Those people gave me the chance to compete again. That was great.

“And I understand in a Grand Slam it’s really hard to get a wild card. I asked for it, but I understand that that’s really hard for a tournament director to give a wild card to a non‑Australian player. So I accepted I had to play quallies.

“I think for me mentally, yeah, it was good playing them. I got a little stronger, a little tougher mentally. I think it’s going to serve me well in the future.”

Wickmayer Enters The Radar

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – With all the press Melanie Oudin received at this Open, Yanina Wickmayer has flown under the radar.

Yet, like her American counterpart, this Belgian has surprised everyone at Flushing Meadows and now is on the verge of the Finals.

“It has surprised me in one way,” she said. I have been feeling really well the last few weeks. I’ve been playing a couple of great matches, and I’m really playing under a lot of confidence.

“So coming here I was feeling pretty good, and physically and mentally I was feeling really strong. So the first couple of matches, yeah, of course you’re always a little bit surprised of winning great matches in a Grand Slam.

“For sure if it’s the first great Grand Slam you’ve played, because before this my best result was second round. So of course when you get to the third, fourth round, you start surprising yourself. But actually, I’ve been staying pretty calm. I’ve worked really hard for this.”

She defeated Kateryna Bondarenko today, 7-5, 6-2, to earn a date with Caroline Wozniacki. The 19 year-old is very confident, mainly because the bad bounces are now going her way.

“The last couple of weeks I lost some tight matches to the top players,” she said. I lost 6-4 in the third, 7-6 in the third. So it was always like those few key points that I lost.

“I guess now those key points I just feel more concentrated physically and mentally. I feel stronger on the court. I’m sure that those two points has helped me a lot this few weeks.”

It’s been a long road for Wickmayer, who moved to the United States to learn at the Saddlebrook Academy back in 1999. Her mother Daniella passed away from cancer and she convinced her grieving father Marc to move away from Belgium and her family.

“I lost her in ’99, and I just started playing tennis a few weeks or a few months before that just to get my mind off things,” she said. “I guess I just decided as a little girl to get away from home and put my memories and thoughts to something else, so we moved to Florida just to, yeah, my dad and me, just to get things off, just to, yeah, focus ourself on other things in life and try to move on.”

And move on she has. Although she will never forget her mother, the bond she developed with her father is unbreakable. Wickmayer now is realizing her dream. Never past the second round before – she made it past the first at Roland Garros this year – the young rising star is now on the verge of the spotlight.

How she will shine is anyone’s guess, but Wickmayer is ready for Wozniacki, a person she played back in juniors.

“I’ve not really watched her play a lot, so I’m going to watch a little bit on TV today,” she said. “But like I said before, every match I play, I just go on the court and play my own game.

“Sometimes I’ll adjust a little bit during my match, but not really a lot. I just go out there, have fun, and do everything I can.”

Can Anyone Beat Serena?

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – With all the talk of Melanie Oudin, Kim Clijsters, and even Caroline Wozniacki, no one is talking about the big stumbling block at the bottom of the draw.

Yet, No. 2 seed Serena Williams just keeps winning, not even dropping a set this tournament with a 6-4, 6-3, win in the Quarterfinals over No 10 seed Flavia Pennetta.

“I’m always taking every opponent super-serious,” Williams said. “Flavia is clearly a good player, and I was definitely not underestimating her. I thought it was a really good match. You know, she also has a good spirit.”

Williams is of course being gracious, because Pennetta had no chance in this match. The one thing Williams has is power, which no opponent can compete with. She can pretty much blow away the competition, especially on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

And she’s done just that. None of her matches were that close. In fact, Williams has a pretty boring show at this Open. How can you have drama, when one player is just so much better.

Yet, this could change on Thursday as Williams plays against Clijsters in the Semis. These two are very old rivals and also old friends, so the younger Williams sister is expecting a good match, even though Serena holds a 7-1 record over the Belgium Ace.

“Yeah, she’s a really good player,” Williams said. “She plays tough. She plays hard. Now it’s like a totally different level, because she has absolutely nothing to lose. I think that’s when you can play your ultimate best tennis.”

She also joked about how Clijsters is now faster after her pregnancy, but the fact remains, 7-1 is 7-1 and the only time Serena was beaten was on carpet.

And that’s the silent question no one wants to ask. Who can beat Serena. Even with Oudin’s great story, can she go toe to toe against Williams if they meet in the final. Can Wozniacki?

“I think [Oudin’s] doing great,” Williams said. “I think she can even win her next match, seeing all the players she’s beaten.I think she actually should win. It’s been my joy watching her play. It’s been exciting, especially for American tennis.”

Sure, Williams likes the way Oudin plays, she has the same spirit as Serena and her success takes pressure off the 27 year-old three time Open Champion. If people are talking about Oudin, then they are not discussing Serena.

And that’s the way she likes it. For all the diva like activities that comes with Serena, she is still a heck of a tennis player. And as we have seen over these last nine days, if left alone, Williams will go quietly about her business.

Yet, the fact remains Williams is still the best out there and the odds on favorite to win the tournament. Right now, she is playing her best tennis of the year, and no one whose left can compete with her power.

Of course anything can happen; just look at Andy Murray.