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Sport – A Storybook Ending for Clijsters

By Erin Bruehl

Kim Clijsters dropped to her knees at the net in celebration, tears in her eyes after the overhand winner on match point.

She stood up, hugged her opponent, Caroline Wozniacki, and walked over to her on-court chair, wiping the tears away with a towel. She spotted her husband, Brian Lynch, her coach and friends in her box and climbed up into the stands, around the TV cameras, to embrace them all, waving to her toddler daughter Jada nearby in a suite.

In just her third tournament since her return to the WTA Tour this summer after an over two-year retirement that included getting married and having Jada in February 2008, Clijsters won the 2009 US Open, defeating Wozniacki in the final 7-5, 6-3.

It completed the fairytale return with a perfect storybook ending.

For Clijsters, 26, it is her second career US Open title, winning the title back in 2005 for what was up until Sunday, her only Grand Slam singles crown. But not anymore.

Clijsters has been the world No. 1 multiple times in her career, first reaching the top spot in 2003 and has now won 35 career singles titles, including reaching four other major finals. She made the decision to attempt a return to the WTA Tour back in March, after she started practicing for an exhibition match under the new roof at Wimbledon.

But there were lots of questions about the former world No.1’s return. Just how would Clijsters perform? It was a different game with a few different faces at the top than when she walked away in May 2007. Clijsters herself was not sure how things would go both on and off the court, now traveling with a family.

However, all questions about the state of Clijsters’ game and her ability to dominate against the top players in the world as well as balance family life have now been answered.

“I can’t believe this happened,” Clijsters said of her victory. “Because it still seems so surreal that, in my third tournament back won my second Grand Slam. Because it wasn’t in the plan. I just wanted to come here and get a feel for it all over again, play a Grand Slam so the start to the next year I didn’t have to go through all the new experiences over.”

Lynch and Jada came on-court to congratulate their new champion after the trophy presentation. (Jada’s nap had especially been planned later that day so she would be wide awake for the match). Jada delighted her parents and the crowd with her prancing around the court and trying her best to grab hold of the US Open trophy. It will no doubt make for a great story for Clijsters and Lynch to remind her one day of how she was part of her mother’s US Open trophy celebration and in such an entertaining way.

It was special for Clijsters to have them in attendance since Lynch was not present for her victory in 2005 and there was no Jada.

“It (winning the US Open) means the world, and I’m just so glad that I am able to share it with my husband who is here who wasn’t here a few years ago, and with my whole group who is here,” she said. “And with our daughter, of course, (who) is the greatest thing ever.”

She became the first unseeded woman to ever win the US Open and the first mother to win a Grand Slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley back in 1980 at Wimbledon.

For Clijsters, it is almost like she was defending her US Open title from back in 2005. This was her first appearance in Flushing Meadows since she won, missing the 2006 US Open after reinjuring her right wrist that required surgery back in 2004 and then in retirement in 2007 and 2008. She now has a 14-match win streak in Flushing Meadows.

In fact, this was the first Grand Slam she had played since the 2007 Australian Open, where she reached the semifinals.

To say Clijsters was surprised to come this far just a few weeks into her return would be an understatement. She came out of retirement a different person now married to Lynch, an American basketball player, and mother to Jada. During her retirement, she also was caring for her father, who passed away from cancer in January of his year. In short, there was plenty to keep her busy and keep her mind away from tennis.

She did not really get back onto the tennis court until the invitation to play at Wimbledon. While practicing in preparation, the old feelings of competition started to come back.

“It was literally only until the start of this year where – it’s not that I thought like, I’ll never play tennis again. I just didn’t think about it,” Clijsters said. “So you don’t get into the whole training routine or anything until at the start of this year when I got that invitation to Wimbledon. I think that’s how it all started and how I got that competitiveness back, I think, to just not want to go play exhibitions here and there and just to do this serious tournaments and just to see if I can just really challenge myself, I think, was the biggest thing.”

During her years on top of the WTA Tour, Clijsters was always known for her outstanding defense, speed and especially for her famous splits. We have not seen many of those splits since her return, but everything else looks like she stepped off court for maybe a few weeks at most, not over two years.

“I think that she’s just going out there and she’s enjoying it. She doesn’t have any pressure, because she already achieved what she wanted to. She has the family. She has everything,” Wozniacki said of Clijsters’ comeback. “I think that maybe even she’s a better player now than she was before. It’s tough for me to say, because I didn’t play her before. But, I can imagine that she, I mean, she just won a Grand Slam. It’s her third tournament back. What more can I say?”

The final on Sunday against Wozniacki featured many breaks of serve in the first set and bunches of long rallies throughout the match. Clijsters really found her groove in the second set, becoming more precise with her shots and coming up with the big points when she needed them. She admittedly battled her nerves in the last few games remembering being in the same position four years ago helped her keep them under control.

She had more errors than she probably would have liked in the match, 31, but also hit 36 winners.

Fellow players have welcomed Clijsters back, citing the good it does for women’s tennis as well as her presence as a person. She was always one of the most well-liked players on the Tour, earning the nickname of ‘Miss Congeniality.’

Because of her two-year absence, Clijsters did not have an official WTA Tour ranking, so she was given a wild card entry into the US Open this year as well as the tournaments in Cincinnati and Toronto in the preceding weeks. She quickly showed her game was back, defeating three top 20 players in Cincy and reaching the quarterfinals and then the round of 16 in Toronto.

Because of her wild card status, her path to the final looked formidable when the draw was first revealed, having to defeat both Serena and Venus Williams amongst the seeded player in her path, just to reach the final, let alone win the title.

She fought her way through the draw, taking out No. 14 Marion Bartoli in the second round (whom she also defeated in Cincinnati) in three sets, and then easily took out her countrywoman Kirsten Flipkens to reach the third round against Venus. In a crazy three sets (with Clijsters and Venus each winning a set at love), Clijsters moved on to the quarterfinals. After a defeat of Na Li, the No. 18 seed, the defending US Open champion Serena was next.

Clijsters was outplaying Serena throughout their semifinal match before officially winning in bizarre fashion. Serena was assessed her second code violation of the match after yelling at linesperson who called her for a foot fault. The second code violation resulted in a point penalty for Serena, which gave Clijsters the match.

She has not set a full schedule for the rest of this year or next year beyond playing in Luxembourg and then the 2010 Australian Open. However, suffice to say she knows she can compete with any other player in any tournament and balance it well with her family life.

“I feel very lucky that I got this chance to be back here now and that I made that decision (to return), because it’s obviously been a good choice,” Clijsters said. “I’m just very lucky that I’m able to combine both and that my family supports me in doing this.”
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September 14, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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