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.

 

 

 

 

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI REGAINS WTA WORLD NO.1 RANKING

DUBAI – By reaching the semifinals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Caroline Wozniacki will return to the top of the WTA Rankings on Monday, February 21, 2011.  Wozniacki will surpass the current WTA World No.1 Kim Clijsters who ascended to the top of the rankings last week for the fourth time in her career.  Wozniacki is projected to hold the top spot for at least four weeks through March 20, 2011.  In addition to finishing the 2010 season as the World No.1 ranked player, she held the top ranking for a total of 18 consecutive weeks prior to being overtaken by Clijsters.

Only the 10th player to end the season as the World No.1 since the WTA ranking system was introduced in 1975, Wozniacki became the first player from Denmark to reach the top ranking.  Wozniacki had a career-best season in 2010, capturing a WTA-leading six titles including the China Open (Beijing), the Toray Pan Pacific Open (Tokyo), and the Rogers Cup (Montreal).  She also won the MPS Group Championships (Ponte Vedra Beach), the e-Boks Sony Ericsson Open, the Pilot Pen Tennis at Yale (New Haven) and reached the final of the year-end WTA Championships, falling to Clijsters in three sets.  Playing her first Grand Slam as a World No.1, Wozniacki reached the semifinals of the Australian Open earlier this year, losing to China’s Li Na.

TOTAL WEEKS AT WTA WORLD NO.1

PLAYER DATE REACHED No.1 WEEKS*
Steffi Graf (GER) August 17, 1987 377
Martina Navratilova (TCH/USA) July 10, 1978 332
Chris Evert (USA) November 3, 1975 260
Martina Hingis (SUI) March 31, 1997 209
Monica Seles (YUG/USA) March 11, 1991 178
Serena Williams (USA) July 8, 2002 123
Justine Henin (BEL) October 20, 2003 117
Lindsay Davenport (USA) October 12, 1998 98
Amélie Mauresmo (FRA) September 13, 2004 39
Dinara Safina (RUS) April 20, 2009 26
Tracy Austin (USA) April 7, 1980 21
Kim Clijsters (BEL) August 11, 2003 20
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) October 11, 2010 19
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) August 11, 2008 18
Jennifer Capriati (USA) October 15, 2001 17
Maria Sharapova (RUS) August 22, 2005 17
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) June 9, 2008 12
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (ESP) February 6, 1995 12
Venus Williams (USA) February 25, 2002 11
Evonne Goolagong (AUS) April 26, 1976 2

Chart as of February 21, 2011 / * Total weeks at No.1; can be non-consecutive

Clijsters Goes for an Open Dynasty

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The distance between the two old rivals shrunk to the size of the sweatband Kim Clijsters used to swipe the sweat off her forehead. The reigning US Open champion had watched her third-set lead evaporate and could hear Venus Williams’ fast footsteps approaching net with the set deadlocked at 4-all. That’s when Clijsters created closure by playing over Williams’ head.

Lofting a looping topspin lob into the wind, Clijsters watched the ball sail over Williams’ outstretched Wilson racquet and land a few feet inside the baseline, earning her the crucial break and a 5-4 lead.

Exploring every stroke in her shot spectrum, Clijsters served out a tense 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 conquest of Williams in a rollercoaster of a wildly windy match to advance to her fourth US Open final in her last four Flushing Meadows appearances.

“I thought as long as I keep trying, I have to make one,” Clijsters said of the lob. “It’s instinct. You decide to do that and it works. It was an important point and I’m happy to get through. You can put a little bit more behind it because I was against the wind.”

It was Clijsters’ 20th consecutive US Open victory, tying her with Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and Venus for the second-longest US Open winning streak in the Open Era.

“It obviously means a lot to be in the final and to give myself a chance to defend my my title from last year. It’s a great opportunity,” Clijsters said. “I think today was probably one of the best matches that I’ve played throughout the tournament. I was able to raise my level, and that’s probably what I’m most please about is obviously I was able to win a close match like this, but that I was able to kind of rise to the occasion when I had to.”

It was the 13th meeting between Venus and Clijsters, who has won five in a row to take a 7-6 lead in the head-to-head series. Tennis’ top working mom denied Williams’ quest to return to the US Open final for the first time since 2002. Williams entered the Open without playing a single match during the US Open Series yet came within a few points of navigating her way to the final.

“I definitely feel like I’ll be back next year. This is what I do, and I feel like I played great tennis even with minimal preparation,” Venus said. “Obviously I would have liked to win this match and be playing tomorrow.  I may have lost the match, but that’s just this match.  There will be others.”

Serena Williams, looking champion chic in Venus’ support box, sat this Open out and in Serena’s absence Clijsters is the best hard-court player in the world, in part because she’s the most balanced offensively and defensively. Then there’s the fact she’s always been at her best on North American hard-courts. When she stormed to her first career Grand Slam title at the 2005 US Open, Clijsters simply wore out Williams in rallying for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 quarterfinal victory, and posted a 36-1 record on American hard courts that year.

“I always feel good here so I know that if I play good tennis and if I can give myself an opportunity to get into that second week and play those big matches, I mean this is where I’ve played some of the best tennis that I’ve ever played,” Clijsters said. “So if I can give myself those opportunities to play these kind of matches and not get surprised by opponents in the beginning of the tournament, then anything is possible.”

The second-seeded Clijsters will carry a 5-2 career record into tomorrow night’s final against Vera Zvonareva. But Zvonareva has the game to pose problems for the two-time champion as evidenced by the fact she’s won their last two meetings. Zvonareva surprised Clijsters, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in June then grounded a slightly hobbled Clijsters, who suffered a leg strain, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in last month’s Montreal quarterfinals.

A Wimbledon finalist in singles and doubles, Zvonareva doesn’t have one overwhelming weapon, but she can hit any shot from any position on the court and showcased her net skills in today’s first semifinal.

“She’s a very, very tough opponent. Obviously, I’ve lost my last two matches with her,” Clijsters said. “She’s a player who doesn’t give you much. It’s not that she has a game that’s very unpredictable, but what she does, she does extremely well. It’s gonna be a lot different match than it was today. She has a really good backhand and she’s been serving a lot better in the last few months.”

The seventh-seeded Russian surrendered serve just once in scoring a stirring 6-4, 6-3 victory over top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki to advance to her second consecutive Grand Slam final.

Zvonareva snapped Wozniacki’s 13-match winning streak by playing with purpose and passion in persistently pushing the 2009 US Open finalist into defensive positions on the court.

“Any match with Kim will come down to the tough challenge,” Zvonareva said. “She’s a great mover on the court.  She has a lot of experience.  She won here last year. You know, it’s going to be tough. We played a couple of matches for the past couple of months, but those matches are in the past.”

Williams missed the entire US Open Series while recovering from a knee injury. Her court appearances were confined to World TeamTennis, a few clinics and a book signing appearance at the Los Angeles tournament. Though she was short on match play, Williams wields an abundance of experience, a whipping 120 mph first serve and wisely acted on the fact she could not grind with Clijsters today. Her best shot was moving forward and pressuring the reigning champion.

Pressure, the tormenting winds and Clijsters’ unrelenting pursuit of every ball created a cocktail of torture for Williams in the tiebreaker as she hit two of her seven double faults in the break then badly bungled an easy overhead to fall behind 1-5. Banging a backhand into the net, Williams handled Clijsters five set points and she closed the set in 62 minutes.

“Obviously in the tie break I wasn’t able to play as well as I wanted,” Williams said. “I had too many errors, and she played some good tennis”

Clijsters saved a break point in her opening service game of the final set. She broke for a 2-1 lead when Williams buried a backhand into the net.

Serving at 4-3,Clijsters unravaled in committing two double faults. She had a clear look at the open court but slapped a swinging forehand volley four feet long to hand back the break and it was 4-all.

Father Richard Williams was gnawing nervously on a toothpick as his daughter tried to consolidate the break only to see Venus victmized when Clijsters rode the current of the blustery breeze with two  running rainbow lobs that lit up the murky sky. Stabbing a stretch backhand lob in the corner, Clijsters hammered a forehand winner down the line and when Venus double faulted beyond the box, Clijsters had double break point.

Staying true to her game plan, Williams did the right thing and attacked net behind a vicious forehand, but did not do enough with the forehand volley and paused momentarily to watch that shot land. That’s when Clijsters, hitting against the wind, went airborne with the lob that broke Williams’ serve and shattered her hopes in the process.

“I felt like I was trying to be aggressive in that game, and I came in you know, three out of five points.  Unfortunately it didn’t work for me,” Williams said. “She was playing against the wind, so it just blows the ball back in.  There’s not so much I could do on those points.  It was kind of a little bit of bad luck for me. You know, she just played to win.”

A Clijsters’ win in tomorrow’s 7 p.m. final would make her the first woman to successfully defend the Open since Venus did it in 2001.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.