Kim Clijsters





Professional tennis player

Born June 8, 1983, in Bilzen, Belgium; daughter of Leo Clijsters (a soccer coach) and Els Vandecaetsbeek.

Addresses: Office —c/o Women's Tennis Association, Bank Lane, Roehampton, London SW15 5XZ England.

Career

Began playing tennis at the age of five; won Belgian Junior Championship at age of eleven; made debut on the International Tennis Federation circuit, 1997; won doubles tournament at Roland Garros, 1998; debuted on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour, 1999; won first title on WTA tour in Luxembourg, 1999; won Sparkassan Cup, 2000; finished in top 20 of WTA tour, 2000; member of the Belgian Fed Cup team, 2000-05; won three WTA tour events, 2001; won WTA Tour championship tournament, 2002, 2003; signed sponsorship deal with Fila, 2002; won nine titles, 2003; won seven doubles titles, 2003; ranked number one on the WTA tour for the first time, 2003; won the Pacific Life Open, 2005; won the NASDAQ-100, 2005; won the JPMorgan Chase title, 2005; won the U.S. Open women's single title, 2005.

Awards: Named Belgian sportswoman of the year, Belgian Sports Journalists Association, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005; Most Promising Newcomer, Women's Tennis Association, 1999; Karen Krantzke Sports-manship Award, Women's Tennis Association, 2000, 2003; National Trophy for Merit in Sport, Belgian

government, 2001; Trophée National du Merite Sportif, Belgian government, 2002; named Tour Player of the Month, International Tennis Writers Association, November, 2002, May, 2003, August, 2003, and October/November 2003; ASAP Best Ambassador for the Sport of Tennis, International Tennis Writers Association, 2003; Great Cross of the Order of the Crown, Belgium, 2004; Ambassador for the Sport Award, Inaugural Lawn Tennis Association, 2005.

Sidelights

Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters (pronounced KLEYE-sters) emerged as one of the premiere women's players in the world in the early 2000s. Through early 2006, she had won at least 30 singles titles and eleven doubles titles on the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) tour. Her prize money in this time period totaled nearly $13 million. After reaching the finals of several grand slam tournaments, she won her first slam, the U.S. Open, in 2005. For several weeks in the fall of 2005 and early 2006, Clijsters was the number-one-ranked female player in the world, a position she first held in 2003. Clijsters is a power player who likes to play from the baseline.

Born in 1983 in Belgium, Clijsters is the daughter of athletic parents. Her father, Leo, also known as Lei, was a soccer star in his native country. In 1988, he was player of the year in Belgium. Leo Clijsters played internationally and later became the coach of a team in Belgium. Clijsters' mother, Els, was a champion gymnast in Belgium. She was the national junior champion, but was forced to retire when back problems sidelined her career. Of her parents' contribution to her career, Clijsters told Ronald Atkin of the Independent , "I inherit power and perseverance from my dad. My thighs are very muscular and people say I have legs just like his. I don't have a body like Anna Kournikova but that's no problem. I have suppleness, which comes from my mother's side."

Clijsters chose to learn to play tennis, beginning at the age of five. She began competing in tournaments in Genk, Belgium, at the age of six. When she was eleven years old, she won the Belgian Junior championship. This win led to her being coached by Bart Van Kerchkhove. He remained her coach until 1996. That year, Clijsters entered a tennis academy in Antwerp, Belgium. There, she was able to combine academics with tennis, and began to compete internationally. She also gained a new coach in Carl Maes, whom she worked with until June of 2002.

In 1997, while Clijsters was still a student and competing in junior grand slams, she also began competing on the ITF (International Tennis Federation) circuit. Her first ITF tournament was in Koksijde, Belgium, where she made the quarter finals before losing. In 1998, Clijsters was the runner-up in the junior Wimbledon tournament. That same year, in doubles at Roland Garros in France, she won with Jelena Dokic. As Clijsters' career took off, her father played a pivotal role in her career by taking care of his daughter 's contracts and finances. He also helped her mental game, though because of his lack of tennis knowledge, his role was limited. Clijsters was ranked 409th in the world in 1998.

In 1999, Clijsters began appearing on the WTA tour, though she still primarily competed in challenger and satellite tournaments. She was only 16 years old. Her first WTA event was in Antwerp, Belgium, where she lost the quarterfinals match. Clijsters soon won her first ITF singles tournament in Sheffield, England. In 1999, Clijsters began winning tournaments on the WTA tour. She won her first WTA women's singles tour event in Luxembourg, defeating fellow Belgian Dominique Van Roost. This event also marked the first time two Belgians played each other in a WTA event final. That same year, Clijsters also won the doubles title with fellow Belgian Laurence Courtois in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Clijsters made some progress in grand slams in 1999. After competing as a qualifier, she reached the fourth round of Wimbledon. There, Clijsters lost to her former idol, Steffi Graf, 6-2, 6-2. Clijsters saw the match as significant in her career. She told John Roberts of the Independent , "The honor of being one of the last players to play Steffi is my best memory of 1999." Clijsters also reported to Roberts, "After the match Steffi said to me I played the tennis of the future. That meant so much to me." Clijsters also reached the third round of the U.S. Open, where she came close to defeating Serena Williams, who later won the title. Clijsters had shown she could compete with the best. She finished the year ranked number 47.

In 2000, Clijsters played in 16 WTA tour events, winning two. One victory came in Leipzig, Germany. There, Clijsters won the Sparkassan Cup by defeating Elena Likhovtseva. She also had some success in grand slams, albeit in mixed doubles. She reached the finals of Wimbledon mixed doubles with then boyfriend and Australian champion men's player Lleyton Hewitt. (The couple became engaged in 2003, but ended their relationship in 2004.) In addition, she reached the quarter finals of the WTA championship tournament. Clijsters also played for Belgium in the Fed Cup for the first time, a tradition that would continue at least through 2005. By the end of 2000, Clijsters was ranked 18th in the world.

Over the next two years, Clijsters continued to improve and nearly won her first grand slam. She won three WTA tour events in Stanford, Leipzig, and Luxembourg, in 2001. Clijsters also reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. That same year, she competed in the finals of the French Open. Though she nearly upset her opponent, Jennifer Capriati, Clijsters lost in the end. However, by reaching the finals of the French Open, she became the first Belgian woman to reach a Grand Slam final. Along the way to the finals, Clijsters had to defeat country-woman Justine Henin in the semi-finals. This match made tennis popular again in Belgium, with Clijsters representing the Flemish side of the country, and Henin, the French-speaking side. The pair claimed they were friends to the public, but actually had a growing rivalry. In 2002, Clijsters won the WTA tour championship event as well as three other titles. That same year, she signed a sponsorship deal with Fila. By this time she was one the top five women in the world.

Clijsters won the most titles of her young career in 2003. She won nine titles that year, including a repeat victory at the WTA tour championship. She also had success competing in doubles. Clijsters won the Wimbledon women's double title with Ai Sugiyama. This was one of seven women's doubles titles Clijsters won that year. Clijsters also began working with a new coach, Marc Dehous.

Her track record in singles grand slams was less impressive in 2003. She reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, facing Serena Williams. Though Clijsters nearly won the match, she eventually lost to Williams. At the French Open, Clijsters again reached the finals, facing Henin, now known as Justine Henin-Hardenne. Clijsters lost badly, 6-0, 6-4. At Wimbledon, Clijsters lost in three sets to Venus Williams in the semi-finals. While Clijsters reached the finals of the U.S. Open, she lost to Henin-Hardenne again, 7-5, 6-1. Clijsters knew that she had to improve her mental preparation at such events and become more selective at events she played in before slams, but claimed she did not have a problem with Henin-Hardenne. Clijsters told Scott Gullan of the Herald Sun , "That's always something that they're going to keep saying, if you lose against her. I definitely don't think [it is the case]. In those matches I knew where the problem was laying and I knew it wasn't psychological."

At the end of 2003, Clijsters was the number-two-ranked woman in the world. She had even spent some time at number one in August of 2003, knocking off long-time number one Serena Williams. When the first grand slam of 2004 came around, however, Clijsters found herself in a now familiar position. She reached the finals of the Australian Open, again playing Henin-Hardenne. Clijsters lost again, but had been suffering from ankle problems throughout the tournament. She did put up a better fight, losing 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Some commentators believe that Clijsters' sunny demeanor contributed to her failing to win big events. L. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated wrote, "The knock on Clijsters has been that her sweet nature exacted a price on her tennis, a sport that all but requires streaks of self-absorption and nastiness."

Clijsters never fully recovered in 2004. She won only two events, in Antwerp and Paris, mostly because the year was filled with injury. Clijsters had wrist problems after tearing a tendon in March. She continued to play for a while, but did not do well. Clijsters had surgery in June to remove a cyst from her wrist, but it did not help. She tried to play again in October, but the wrist was re-injured. Clijsters did not play for about eight months and there was some uncertainty over if she could have a career again. Clijsters told John Roberts of the Independent , "There were days when the doctors said, 'It's going to be very tough for you to reach the same level again.' There have been a lot of boring weeks when I was in plaster, trying to recover, and doing all these crazy exercises. You just have to be patient. You just try to think positive."

Clijsters did not play in tournaments again until February of 2005. She rebounded in 2005 with a new attitude and nasty edge. The result was nine victories in tournaments, including wins at the Pacific Life Open, NASDAQ-100, and the JPMorgan Chase title. Clijsters told Wertheim of Sports Illustrated "You realize that one injury can end your career tomorrow, so you should just enjoy playing. But you also realize that tennis is important to you, so you want to do everything possible to win." At the JPMorgan Chase event, Clijsters pulled off an unexpected athletic move with her vertical jump which threw off her opponent, Daniela Hantuchova. Clijsters later told Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times , "The more you keep pushing them to go for more and the more they know they're going to go for more risk and you get them out of their comfort zone." Clijsters was improving both offensively and defensively.

Clijsters also won her first-ever grand slam event in 2005, at the U.S. Open. She began as the number-four seed in the tournament, and faced difficulties along the way. In the semifinals against Maria Sharapova, Clijsters dropped five match points in the second set, but rebounded in the third to win the match. In the finals, Clijsters soundly defeated Mary Pierce, 6-3, 6-1. Clijsters lost the label of being "the best player never to win a Grand Slam." She told the Los Angeles Times ' Dillman, "I had the idea that the media was making more of it [the label], like a bigger deal of it than I was. I was very motivated and working hard to try to do it."

Early in 2006, Clijsters again faced injury issues. She developed ankle problems at the Australian Open which forced her to withdraw from the semifinals. Despite having take some time off to heal, she was again ranked number one in the world. Though Clijsters was at her peak as a player, she was not planning on playing more than two or three more years. She was not sure her body could take it, and wanted to start a family. Clijsters was involved with American basketball player Brian Lynch, who played college ball at Villanova and professionally in Belgium. She told S.L. Price of Sports Illustrated after her U.S. Open win, "Brian's the most important thing in my life now. I would give up this title, straight away, just to have him. Because at the end of the day when you go home, the trophies are not talking to you. They're not going to love you. I want the people I love with me."

Sources

Periodicals

Advertiser (Australia), October 23, 2004, p. 7.

Austin American-Statesman (Austin, TX), February 2, 2006, p. C2.

Australian , December 3, 2005, p. 51.

Express on Sunday (London, England), November 5, 2000.

Guardian (London, England), June 25, 2001, p. 16.

Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), January 30, 2004, p. 36.

Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), January 31, 2004, p. 36.

Independent (London, England), June 28, 1999, p. 5; January 5, 2000, p. 19; December 31, 2000, p. 14; September 12, 2005, pp. 70-71.

Los Angeles Times , August 15, 2005, p. D4; September 10, 2005, p. D1; September 11, 2005, p. D1; November 9, 2005, p. D3.

Newsday (New York, NY), September 11, 2005, p. B2.

New York Times , September 4, 2001, p. D5; August 29, 2005, p. F4.

San Diego Union-Tribune , August 28, 2005, p. C2.

Sports Illustrated , April 11, 2005, p. 87; September 19, 2005, p. 106.

Sunday Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), February 1, 2004, p. 49.

Online

"Kim Clijsters (BEL), " Sony Ericcson WTA Tour, http://www.wtatour.com/players/ playerprofiles/PlayerBio2.asp?PlayerID=30458 (January 24, 2006).

Kim Clijsters Website; http://www.kimclijsters.com (January 24, 2006).

"Kim Clijsters, " Who2.com, http://www.who2. com/kimclijsters.html (January 24, 2006).

A. Petruso



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