Tennis star Clijsters says final farewell
Updated On: Dec 23 2012 12:23:47 AM MST
Kim Clijsters enjoyed a tennis career that would be the envy of most women on the WTA Tour, but it is not a career path she would like for her four-year-old daughter.
The Belgian has topped the world rankings, celebrated four grand slam triumphs and earned over $24 million in prize money before calling time on her glittering career at this year's U.S. Open, but she hopes daughter Jada can find a profession away from the court.
"I'm not the kind of person where I want her to be like me and want her to have a career like me," the 29-year-old told CNN's Open Court in her homeland, where she was staging an event to thank her compatriots for their support over the last 15 years.
"She plays a bit, she's at the club that I own with a friend every Wednesday, she goes there just for the social side of things. There's so many kids she plays with -- when the tennis is over they go to the playground or the cafeteria.
"It's just fun to see her have a social life and be among friends while playing sports. Whether it's swimming, track and field or tennis, I'll support her whatever she wants to do.
"But I'm not going to be the mother that's like, 'We're going to play tennis, we're going to practice this and this shot' -- I'm not like that at all."
Clijsters' "Thank You Games" in Antwerp, an exhibition tournament also featuring fellow former world No. 1s Amelie Mauresmo and Venus Williams, were a way for her to thank the Belgian public for 15 years of goodwill.
"It was a way for me to give back for all the support I got from the people here," she said. "The last 15 years I've had so many letters and presents and people who travel all over the world to watch me play, so I needed to say goodbye to the people here in Belgium."
She chose Williams and Mauresmo because they were two of her best friends on tour.
"Venus, what she's done for women's tennis has been incredible. I've always admired her for who she is as a person," Clijsters said.
"Amelie as well, besides the fact she was a great player I appreciate the person she was on tour for her whole career -- she stayed normal. There was no difference seeing Amelie the next day if you beat her or lost to her. That's something I really appreciated.
"She was one of the people I got closer to -- I reached out to her when her dad passed away and she reached out to me when my dad passed away."
The Bilzen native initially retired in 2007, taking two years out of the sport to have her child before returning in 2009. She won that year's U.S. Open as a wildcard, becoming the first mother to clinch a major championship since Australia's Evonne Goolagong in 1980.
"I enjoyed spending time with my husband and our daughter on the road, seeing her at my last U.S. Open -- she was in the stands and she watched and she would clap. I would hear her yell and I really enjoyed it," Clijsters said.
That win has become famous for the on-court celebration between mother and daughter, and Clijsters ranks the victory as the most emotional of her career -- coming less than a year after the death of her father.
"One of my biggest highlights is the U.S. Open victory when I came back," she explained. "Nine months before my dad passed away and the surprise to have won ... it was like an emotional rollercoaster."
She went to New York this year determined to savor the occasion, playing in the singles, doubles and mixed doubles competitions while also watching as a fan as Andy Roddick ended his career during the grand slam event.
"I felt so excited about it, like a 14-year-old again playing my first tour event and going to Disneyland for the first time," Clijsters said.
"I was so excited knowing it could be one of my last matches but at the same time I was taking it all in. I told myself leading up to the Open that you're gonna step back once in a while and look at the situation from another kind of angle.
"Now that I think back, those 15 years have flown by. It's sad in a way that you don't think about it when you're 16 or 17 -- which in a way is normal, but in the last year I was on tour I learned more than in the last 15 in total."
That 2009 triumph was one of three she achieved at Flushing Meadows, while she also won the 2011 Australian Open.
Her exploits raised the profile of tennis in Belgium, and her rivalry with Justine Henin was keenly fought, with Clijsters winning 13 of their 25 meetings -- although Henin won all three of their grand slam final matches.
Henin retired from the sport in 2011, also for the second time, and this year announced she is expecting her first child -- due to be born next March.
Clijsters said that only since retiring has she been able to see what their achievements meant to Belgian tennis fans.
"Now that I'm older I'm able to realize what we did for our country, especially in the last few months since I retired, I've been in situations where people have come up to me and thanked me," she said.
"When world leaders and politicians I've met say what you've done for Belgium, that's when it really hits you."
She was also touched that the Belgian media made a special presentation to her after that final match in September -- a second-round defeat to one of the women's game's rising stars, British 18-year-old Laura Robson.
"It's such a small country, we're very approachable. We don't have paparazzi, so we're among the people," Clijsters said.
"They said I have to come in for another interview and I thought 'Oh no, not another one.' They were all standing there ... it really got to me. The thought they put into it was very nice."
One lingering regret is that she never reached the final at Wimbledon, losing in the semis in 2006 and the quarters in 2010.
"The match that hurt me the most was that loss to Vera Zvonareva (in 2010). At the time it took me a few weeks to get myself together and focus on what was next," said Clijsters, who bounced back to win the U.S. Open for the third time later that year, beating the Russian in the final.
One of Clijsters' trademarks was her athletic stretches across the court, flexibility which could perhaps be explained by the fact her mother was a gymnast.
Clijsters, whose father was a professional footballer, enjoys the attention her quirky trademark brings.
"It does make me laugh," she said. "I have people send me pictures of splits they do to show me they can do it, so it is funny.
"I think it started because I practiced on clay all of the time in Belgium and then I just tried it one time on hard court and won the point and slowly started to feel more comfortable with it. Now more players do it, so it's not only me anymore."
So is there any chance of a third comeback? Clijsters takes her time, then shakes her head.
"No, I'm done!"
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