Paying Tribute to Kim Clijsters
On Tuesday, the second round of the US Open was contested on the women’s side. Normally a second round match doesn’t tend to generate a great deal of interest, however this battle was different. 18 year old Brit Laura Robson, up a set and at 6-6 was prepared to serve with a match point. She boomed a strong serve at her opponent that was returned long and Robson advanced to the third round. What made this point so important was that it was the final point in the career of Robson’s adversary, the great Kim Clijsters.
It was common knowledge that Clijsters would retire after the 2012 US Open given that she had struggled with injuries throughout 2011. Though she is recognized as one of the strongest players on the WTA, Clijsters’ body was telling her something. The health issues, along with the commitments to her family, made the decision to walk away from the sport a smart one for Kim and a sad one for all of her fans. She has, however, left behind a spectacular career.
Clijsters turned professional in 1997 at the age of 14, and showed flashes of brilliance for the next 4 years until her first Grand Slam final in 2001 at the French Open. It was here that the powerful young Belgian displayed her stamina and conditioning, playing a two and a half hour match with the phenom Jennifer Capriati losing 12-10 in the third set. Clijsters would spend the next couple of years playing and defeating the strongest players on the women’s tour including countrywoman Justine Henin, both Serena and Venus Williams, and the intimidating Lindsay Davenport.
Despite her impressive victories against a who’s who of the WTA elite, Clijsters couldn’t seem to get that elusive first Grand Slam title. She made five consecutive major semi-finals in 2003 and 2004 including three finals appearances. She also achieved the number 1 overall ranking in 2003. In 2004, Clijsters injured her ankle and wrist early in the year, but fought through her injuries to reach the Australian Open final. Unfortunately a cyst spoiled the remainder of her season and Kim would have to wait another year to go back to the top. At the 2005 US Open, Clijsters would finally achieve what all professional tennis players crave – a Grand Slam title. Clijsters dominated Mary Pierce in straight sets to capture her first US Open crown. Clijsters decided to retire in 2007 citing injuries. These injuries were no doubt the result of her playing style, utilizing the baseline, movement and powerful ground strokes as opposed to earning easy points with a strong serve. At 24, Kim was through.
In 2008, Clijsters and her husband, professional basketball player Bryan Lynch, welcomed their daughter Jada to the world. With Lynch planning his retirement as well the two seemed to warm to the idea of becoming full-time parents and leaving professional sports behind. Kim, however, was not ready to put the racquet away for good just yet. While preparing for an exhibition, Clijsters announced she would return to the tour in 2009. With Bryan by her side and Jada in toe, Clijsters returned to Flushing Meadows for the first time since her 2005 victory.
As a wild card, she would likely have to go through both Williams sisters to reach the final and very few people were giving her a chance, but as the tournament rolled on, it seemed that it was her destiny to reclaim US Open glory. Kim got through both Venus and Serena Williams and defeated hot, young Danish prospect Caroline Wozniacki to take her second US Open title. This title meant a lot to Kim as it proved that she was indeed still capable of reaching the top of the women’s game. She also became the first mother in nearly 30 years to win a major (since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980). Kim would go on to win another US Open in 2010 and an Australian Open in 2011 with her family by her side the whole way. She would also return to the number 1 overall ranking making her the first mother ever to claim the spot. She was also named the 16th most influential person and most influential athlete of 2011 by Time magazine, solidifying her place in the tennis elite.
Though this year was not the ideal swan song for Clijsters, she was able to finally play for Belgium at the Olympics which she was not able to do in 2004 and 2008. She has left an inspiring legacy behind and is a shining example of a truly classy athlete. Her powerful strokes, wide infectious smile and playful post match interviews will always have a place in the hearts of tennis fans everywhere.
We will miss you, Kim.