Good for tennis from step away to Clijsters

Five years ago in Newport, Rhode Island, Kim Clijsters saw the first time in her career.

“At the International Tennis Hall of Fame, I was able to walk through the history of tennis and see all the athletes that I grew up with as a kid,” she said earlier this week. “The ones who made me fall in love with the sport.”

Seeing the exhibits featuring her childhood heroes left her speechless.

“That’s when the whole movie starts in your head [Elke] Playing on our driveway back in Belgium. We’d go back and forth with Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. When it was the French Open, one of us was always Arantxa Sanchez. ”

Photos: Kim Clijsters’ career from the top milestones at A Look Back

Clijsters was enshrined that warm summer day in 2017 among the first inspired of that game of immortals. Good Friday for the Hologic WTA Tour Competition from She Stepping Away.

Her recent 20-month comeback, which coincided almost identically with the spread of the global pandemic, never took flight. Gradually, the Clijsters came to realize that her family was her first priority.

The 38-year-old, along with her husband Brian, are busy settling into their three children in suburban New Jersey after a move from Belgium. She drives them to school and back, oversees homework, cooks breakfast and dinner – and has an endless supply of laundry.

“Yeah, it’s been a while for my mind,” Clijsters said. “I still love to hit the ball. With my schedule three, four days was enough to keep my rhythm under control but not good enough if I decided to play another tournament. Say, if I picked Australia, it’s three, four weeks. That’s just not possible at this stage of our family life.

“Life just sort of takes over, right?”

For the record, her last official match was Oct. 7, when she lost to Katerina Siniakova in the first round at Indian Wells. She has played more than ever singles games, winning more World Team Tennis.

In retrospect, Clijsters said she was too stubborn to let tennis, at that highest level, go. Of course, stubbornness is really just another word for determination, the trait she credits for the most.

“I think my determination was that a little girl was a huge factor,” Clijsters said. “This is something that came from my parents – they always pushed me to believe, ‘OK, what you do for your sport, you have to do it 100 percent.’ To this day, I think about what my dad said: realize You have to realize that your career cannot be regrettably giving you everything. ‘

“And out of everything, that’s probably what I’m most proud of – that I really did. From the moment I stepped on the court and, whether it was a practice or a match, I was committed. I was there to try and be my best. ”

A brief accounting of a tennis well played: four Grand Slam singles titles, two in doubles, a 523-131 match record (80.0 percent), 41 titles, the No.1 ranking four different times over a span of eight years and $ 24 million-plus in prize money.

Her playing style was an arresting combination of power and flexibility; Her father, Lei, was a formidable soccer player and her mother, Els, was a gymnast. You could see it in her signature splits.

Clijsters was a first-time Grand Slam champion on her 20sth Birthday, pairing with Ai Sugiyama to win the 2003 French Open Doubles. They repeated at Wimbledon, but Clijsters didn’t win the singles title until 2005 at the US Open. In May 2007, at age 23, she retired for the first time.

“When I stopped playing, my dad was sick,” Clijsters said. “He was talking about me maybe playing tennis again a few months before he passed, and I was like` Dad, no. That’s not going to happen. ‘ ”

It was an invitation from the All England Club in 2009 to focus on moving Clijsters. It was only a few months later that she gave birth to her daughter Jada and the timing right.

“That’s when the competition for the hunger came back and, yeah, it just went from there,” Clijsters said. “The emotion would have stayed, and it did. There’s always a big impact on your life. Losing my dad was one of them. ”

After more than two years in the game, Clijsters won five of the seven matches at Cincinnati and Toronto before her unlikely and triumphant run at the 2009 US Open. She beat Serena and Venus Williams and Li Na on their way to the final, where she overcame Caroline Wozniacki. It was, Clijsters said, her most emotional victory.

She defended her title in 2010, won the Australian Open in 2011and stepped away from tennis in 2012 – again thinking it was the last time. But more than seven years later, after Jack and Blake had joined the family, Clijsters wanted to give tennis one more go.

She played only five matches – COVID-19 was a wrecking havoc with world travel and she suffered a knee injury – but in a testament to her savvy, she extended a third set of them.

“My passion for tennis will never leave me no matter what,” Clijsters said. “I feel like I have gotten so much out of it. So, yeah, that will be the next phase, where can I go? ”

She has a number of requests from current players to be a part-time coach, focusing on opting instead for Jada’s burgeoning basketball career. At 14, she’s already 5-foot-11 and when her mother says she’s dribbling down the court at full speed, she’s learning to step out of the way.

Clijsters still hits balls, usually at the nearby Atlantic Club in Manasquan. Last Friday she played with the Pro for a few hours in the morning, then came back for some pickle ball.

“It’s very intense,” Clijsters said. “Once you’ve been competing, like me, from when I was a little girl, I love getting that challenge, the pushing to prove something.”

There will be no shortage of tennis options going forward. The Kim Clijsters Academy in Bree, Belgium – The town she grew up in – has seen her share of rewards and knowledge of the game.

Most recently, Clijsters visited the women’s tennis team at Monmouth University. She played doubles, played some singles points and sat on the court for an hour answering questions. She’ll be a fixture at The Grand Slams, doing television work and playing legends tennis – she’s excited that Wimbledon is adding mixed doubles to their schedule.

Clijsters is determined to return to the favor of those who have helped her along the way.

“I can’t tell you the impact of Steffi and Monica and Arantxa when I came on tour,” she said. “That world has become my reality. They were kind, they would listen, they would give advice. ”

Any regrets?

“No,” she said emphatically. “None. I’ve always made the career decisions on how I felt at the time – not what was good for my career in the long run. I’m happy how everything worked out. ”

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