Three years after her first retirement, Kim Clijsters (29) bids the tour farewell again. And apparently this time it's final. We look back at the journey of a model tennis player, loved by all…
Autumn is coming; the least busy season on the tennis calendar. From Shanghai's Masters Series to Paris at the end of the school year for men, far away Premier Events between Tokyo and Beijing for women before the Masters as final eliminator for the best. It is a time when retirements are announced. Andy Roddick said “stop” at the U.S. Open, Juan Carlos Ferrero will have his curtain call in Valencia, Marat Safin, always one step ahead, went three years ago... This is the generation born in the early 80s now bowing out and making way for new blood. A notable exception is Lleyton Hewitt, 31, who is prolonging his career into an unnecessary (?) extra time. Of all these supposedly final curtain calls, it is that of one of Potato Man’s former girlfriends which is generating the most ink. Perhaps because Kim Antonie Lode Clijsters is loved by all, that her charisma and her simplicity transcend time and borders; perhaps because she is the second woman (after Evonne Goolagong in 1980, Editor's note) to win a Major tournament after taking a hiatus from tennis for two years and child-rearing; perhaps also that "Aussie Kim", her nickname Down Under from her days with Lleyton, is a kind of girl next door, with an “everywoman” figure (5.7 ft., 10.7 St.) and with a very good temper. Jimmy Connors hailed her departure on his Twitter: "her new life awaits... U will be missed. From a fan." Same thing in less than 140 characters for Andy Roddick: “Tennis loves you. It’s been a pleasure to know and watch you... Wish you all the happiness in the world!”
A Fed Cup winner with her in 2001 with the Belgian team, Laurence Courtois provides an overview: "On the tour, Kim’s reputation extends well beyond her career. She had to compete with the Williams at their best, all the Russians and, of course, Justine Henin. She didn't have much luck in the final rounds of Grand Slams. But her game and her personality left an extraordinary memory..." The Flemish woman wasn’t only world number one in singles, she was also number one in doubles. For she was very skilful at the net, in her approaches and in the small transition game. Not to mention the basics, an exceptional mover around the court and a deadly forehand. Her sister Elke, her junior by two years, and junior world doubles champion in 2002 whose career was cut short by back injuries, used to say, "Kim inherited the footballer's legs of our father (Lei Clijsters, Belgian international, Editor's note) and the flexibility of our mother (Els, gymnast, Editor's note)."
Retirement at 24 years old
We might have forgotten it, but Kim Clijsters made her first steps on the WTA Tour in 1997, at the age of 14, before properly launching her career a year later. Forty-one titles would follow, including four Grand Slams - 3 U.S. Opens and 1 Australian Open - and three Masters, plus four times runner-up in Grand Slam finals. The most famous? The first, in Paris, against Jennifer Capriati in 2001 and a backhand that failed at 10/11 in the third set; two hours and twenty minutes into the game. Four times, she was two points away from sealing the match but she finally had to concede to the American. She won't forget it anymore. Her three other defeats - in Paris, New York and Melbourne – would all come at the hands of Justine Henin, her compatriot and nemesis. Yet she became the first Belgian number one in the WTA rankings, on the 11th of August 2003. After a year marred by injuries, she returned very strongly in 2005, when she won nine titles, including the U.S. Open, her first Major. She also told the public that the show was to end two years later. She kept her word and retired in May 2007... at not even twenty-four years old. The climax of a career for many other players. She took the opportunity have a child, Jada, born in February 2008, with her husband, Brian Lynch, an American professional basketball player who played in Bree and then in Antwerp.
She came back two years later as if nothing had happened. As if time had no hold on her. Early September 2009, in her third tournament, not even a month after her come back, she won her second U.S. Open. "It’s here that I had the most beautiful emotions of my career. I won many beautiful things and forged many great friendships,” she told a press conference a month ago, just after her elimination in the second round against Laura Robson (18) and a standing ovation on the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Her second career brought her a third international consecration in the United States, a coronation in Australia and a Masters title... Before meeting her in December at the Sportpaleis in Antwerp for her jubilee, she made her exit in New York "it’s an honour to have been part of this sport and this lifestyle: so many dreams have come true. A new chapter opens even though I cannot imagine being able to give back to tennis what it has given me." Then, injured somewhere in Manacor, Nadal tweeted: "A great friend is leaving the tour. I wish you the best." QED.
By Rico Rizzitelli