An interview with: Kim Clijsters

Written by: on 13th September 2010
An interview with: Kim Clijsters  |

Q.  Last year when you came in, we called it the Kimdarella story, big surprise.  This year expectations were much higher as the second seed.  Did you feel those?  What were those expectations?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Obviously when I started my U.S. summer, the US Open was my main goal.  It was a new situation for me as well, going back to the Grand Slam where I was actually defending my title for the first time.  Not having been able to do that in 2006 was frustrating at the time.

So, you know, it was probably a lot more busy this year around than it was last year in a different way.  Last year it was, you know, it was a different kind of attention.  People were still curious to see how I was playing, and obviously now, you know, people knew that obviously with my history here that I was maybe one of the contenders.

To me, like I said to you every press conference, every tournament, you know, I have to go match by match.  Upsets can happen in the beginning of the tournament, and, you know, I wasn’t playing my best tennis when I wanted to in the beginning.  But I was able to lift my game in the last two matches when I needed it to.

That’s obviously what probably I’m most pleased with over these last 14 days, is that I was able to do that.

Q.  What do you think what does it mean for your daughter, your win?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Obviously she’s still young.  She’s two‑and‑a‑half.  I don’t think to her it matters too much whether I win or lose still (Laughter.)

I mean, it’s nice to have her a part of it, but like I said, I don’t think it matters at all.

Q.  Did you explain to her what was happening, what was going on?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Um, no.  I mean, I like the innocence, you know, of her still.  You know, they express their emotions in such a natural, pure way that, you know, I don’t have to ‑‑ I mean, she sees a trophy and she knows that a trophy is a part of winning.

So she kind of connects the dots like that, but nothing ‑‑ I’m not going to go tell her, Mommy won the US Open.

Q.  You don’t tell her, Mommy is the best?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  No, no, no.  I mean, she doesn’t need to like…

Q.  Vera was having such a strong run at this tournament, playing so well, playing so well coming in.  I know the last couple times she faced you she beat you.


Q.  I won’t say a lot of people are surprised you beat her tonight, but in such a dominating fashion, did that surprise you a little bit?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  I mean, I kind of knew getting into the match, you know, which things were that I didn’t do well in those two matches that I lost.  Obviously the one at Wimbledon was, to me, like I said, one of the most disappointing losses that I’ve dealt with so far in my career.

In a way I was excited to play her in the final here just to try and get that revenge, but I also learned a lot of things, and just not myself.  You know, my coach by watching me lose against her, we picked up a few little things that kind of helped me out there today as well, which was kind of mixing up my game a little more.

She’s the type of player who is consistent and likes the pace and likes to take over the pace from the opponents.  I think today I was able to just mix it up well and just, you know, stay calm during the rally, as well.  Just put enough pressure and variety in there to throw up some higher balls here and there.

I think that just got her, you know, thinking even more, just besides the fact that she was probably thinking about, you know, the occasion, and, you know, where she was playing and being in another final, which is always something that does have an effect on the way you feel, obviously.

She’s been playing some incredible tennis in these last two Grand Slams so far.  It must be frustrating for her not to be able to play her best level when it was probably most needed.

Q.  She did say in here that she needs to learn to pace herself better.  Perhaps there was some way that she could have, you know, I guess conserved some energy because, she said she did not feel that she had her game.

KIM CLIJSTERS:  No.  But, again, I was in a different situation a few years ago when I played my first Grand Slam finals.  I was a little bit younger.  I think when you’re younger, it overwhelms you.

She’s been on the tour a long time and she’s had ‑‑ has played some big matches and has beaten a lot of really good players.  But a Grand Slam finals, it’s still something that, you know, is ‑‑ there’s a different vibe, a different occasion, and it just becomes so much more important.

I told her, too, it took me five or six times before I won my first one, and I know exactly how she feels.  That was probably one of the most frustrating things in my Grand Slam losses in the final was that I wasn’t able to give ‑‑ you know, show my best tennis out there.

That’s how she was feeling afterwards, as well, is what she told me.

Q.  If you can just talk a little bit more about that.  So when you’re on court now ‑ and you’ve gone into your last three Grand Slam finals and played well ‑ compare that to the times you were playing Justine.  Were you not embracing the occasion?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Yeah, but when you’re younger ‑‑ and I remember even the one against Capriati ‑‑ it just becomes ‑‑ the impact of the emotions is so big.  I mean, some players are, you know, are able to just block it off and just focus, but I wasn’t.

To be honest, when I think back now on my first Grand Slam final ‑‑ there’s not a lot of things I remember, just because it was just so emotional ‑‑ but not able to at that, you know, stage of my life, not able to place those emotions.

Now I’m able to do that a lot faster.  I also feel, Okay, I still get nervous and get that heavy arm, but I’m able to control it better and just, you know, not let it affect me in a way that my body is going down or, you know, where I’m not able to play the same type of tennis that I want to play.

Q.  You are the first player to defend the title since Venus did almost 10 years ago, so why do you think it is very tough for players to defend this tournament?  Why do you think you are very successful in this tournament?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Um, I mean, you know, Grand Slams are always tough.  You have to stay focused throughout those whole seven matches, two weeks.  It’s not just the tennis.  There’s so much more involved around it.

I’m very excited that I was able to defend my title, which is ‑‑ it’s always an honor to go back to a place, especially a Grand Slam, where you’ve done well and you’ve won.  You obviously want to bring your best tennis again.

Obviously tennis‑wise I knew that if I would bring my best, that I’m able to ‑‑ you know, I’m capable of beating a lot of the top players.  But, you know, I was just kind of aiming for that.

But to be honest, you know, I don’t think it’s been that long since Venus ‑‑ yeah, maybe in 2000/2001 or so where she won back to back.  But, you know, it’s tough.  I mean, you know, it’s also the last Grand Slam of the year.

The heat was a factor in the beginning of the tournament.  There’s a lot of little details that make a difference.  But, yeah, I’m happy that I was capable of repeating history.

Q.  Besides the maturity now, et cetera, is there something about the atmosphere here or the surface here or something particular about this Grand Slam that seems to bring out the best in you?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Yeah, for sure.  The surface has always been one of my favorite surfaces to play on.  I also like the blue courts, which, you know, make it a lot easier for me to see on.

But I’ve always ‑‑ not just here in New York, but I’ve always had a very good run on the American hard courts, even when I was younger, you know, the whole US Open Series, Stanford, San Diego, LA, those kind of tournaments.

I’ve always had a pretty good record going there.  I have a natural instinct of just adapting really well to, you know, the hard courts, which doesn’t come that easily for me when I go on different surfaces.

Q.  Now that you have your daughter but you’re also playing at such a high level, do you have an idea in your mind of how you want to balance going forward tennis and family or how much longer you want to continue to play?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  I mean, I’ve said, you know, obviously I would like to keep it going until the Olympics.  But then again, I mean, you never know what can happen.  You know, injuries ‑‑ I always ‑‑ my main goal is to try and just stay injury‑free.

If I can do that and if I can practice hard and work hard, you know, obviously, I mean, the Grand Slams will always be my focus.  So now that I’m playing well, obviously I’m not going to just give it up.  I just want to keep it up.

As long as it’s worth balancing and if I’m able to balance it with the family ‑‑ Jada is not obligated to go to school yet, so, you know, obviously it becomes a totally different story once, you know, it becomes mandatory.

Q.  Did you ever, during the match, sense that Vera was not playing her best tennis, was it hard to focus?  How did you maintain your aggressive play seeing that she just wasn’t playing her best?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Um, I mean, you try not to let those kind of things go into your head.  You try not to think about those things.  I felt that I was hitting the ball well, and I kind of had a good game plan.  I wanted to focus on that and not worry too much ‑‑ focus on thinking she wasn’t playing well and then kind of just myself just taking it a little more easily.

I was really just trying to stay focused.  The last two matches that I lost to her, I both won the first sets by playing really well.  I just wanted to step it up in that second set.

Obviously that game at 3‑1 in the second set where it was a longer game and was a very important game for me to win, because, yeah, I just didn’t give her that, you know, small chance to get back into the match.

That was obviously a big game, I think, just for me to just really finish it off there in that second set.

Q.  You’re a very caring person.  How hard is that to do?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  On court, it’s not hard.  (Laughter.)

Q.  Have you had time to think about your plans for the rest of the season in terms of your schedule?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Um, no.  To be honest, I haven’t yet.  Obviously I think for now Beijing is I think the only tournament that’s left.  At the moment, I’m just excited to pack up my bags and go back to Belgium and spend some time with my family there.

Q.  You mentioned the other surfaces.  What are your expectations of yourself for the other majors, and to what degree do those motivate you?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  I mean, they all motivate you in a different way, obviously.  You know, tactic‑wise you always have to adjust a little bit to each and every single one of them.

But I think the one where I’ve felt I can do better than I have is obviously at the Australian Open.  Similar surface.  They’ve gone away from I think the Rebound Ace in the last couple years.  So I’ve always enjoyed playing there.  That’s obviously a Grand Slam I want to do well.  I want to do well in all of them, of course.

But, um, again, you have the two European Grand Slams, which, you know, obviously Wimbledon is the one where, you know, I’m close to because I have the connection with my dad there because he enjoyed it there.  I always want to do well there, as well.

The French Open, yeah, feels like playing in Belgium because we have so many Belgian people supporting us.  We have the history of a lot of past Belgians who have won there.  They all have a different impact on the way you feel and a positive impact, and I think that’s something I want to use when I go back there next year.

Q.  Do you expect to win one of those?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  I would like to.  I will try everything that I can to be in the best shape possible to try and achieve what I’ve achieved here.

Q.  Such a wonderful delightful part of the Open last year was Jada on court just totally amazed.  Everyone was really taken by the entire experience.  It’s hard enough to parent under any circumstances, let alone in the public eye.  My question is:  Does she have any sense now that mom’s different, that she’s part of a different…

KIM CLIJSTERS:  No.  I mean, to be honest, my dad was kind of in a similar situation, because he played soccer mostly in Belgium.  But it was only I think until I got older, you know, when I was about eight or ten years old.  You’re just so used to ‑‑ this is our lifestyle, and you just become so used to it.

To her, I mean, yeah, there’s no difference.  I mean, this is what her life is about.  I mean, it will be, you know, a little different once she starts going to school.  But I mean, no, I’m glad that way.  Because there were moments when I was younger that I didn’t like to have a famous parent.

So, you know, obviously I’ll try to protect her from that as much as possible.

Q.  Does your place in tennis history matter to you?  Do you care if you go down as an all‑time great?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  I mean, it’s not that I think about that, but maybe when I’m older and retired, I’m sure it will be nice.

But it’s not that that’s something that I’m trying to achieve once I’m out on court.  No, I don’t think about that.

Q.  You were talking the other day, and you made a comment about ‑‑ Ana Ivanovic had come up, and you said when you were not playing that you kept in touch with her.  I spoke to her afterwards, and she said you were so great, that you texted her and gave her advice.  And hearing you tonight with Vera, it seems to me very clear that you take great interest in a lot of the young players.  I mean, do you feel in a way like you want to mentor them?  How do you kind of work that out then you have to go up and compete against them?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Um, yeah, Ana especially I’ve been very close to over the last few years, and she’s been one of the players who, you know, has shown interest just outside of tennis.  I think that’s something I also like about her.  She’s a really sweet girl.  You know, I mean, it’s been, you know, frustrating, you know, the way that she’s been playing.  She’s been playing better these last few months.

In a way, I mean, if I can give her some advice, you know, because she’s spoken to me, I’m more than happy to help.  I remember when I was younger, playing my first Grand Slam and playing Steffi Graf, just her, you know, giving you some advice, it just means so much coming from, you know, somebody that you look up to so much.

I mean, I try to help anybody, but obviously when I play against them I just try to be better on the day.  As soon as we step off court, you know, I’ll still try and support them and help them if they need it.

Q.  So you feel a desire to kind of help work with the younger players in general, or is it maybe something…

KIM CLIJSTERS:  Yeah.  No, I do liken that way obviously, because I think with the experiences, obviously that’s something that you can’t teach somebody, or a coach can’t teach you that unless you’ve been in those situations.

So I think it’s nice to once in a while hear from another player that they’ve been through struggles, the same that the player might be going through.  It doesn’t just have to be the positive things, that you can also share some negative things that have happened in your career.

You know, they will probably learn more from that than just the positive things.

Q.  It seemed like against Stosur you struggled.  It was a mental battle and you pulled through.  Same thing with Venus.  You didn’t quite find your level, but at the end you win the mental battle.  Today you go out there and you’re thinking, I’m really due to play well now.  It’s all going to come together for me.

KIM CLIJSTERS:  I mean, for me the difference, um, you know, Stosur, Venus, and then today was that gradually every match I felt better.  I think that was something that just to me just a personal improvement that I was just really trying to aim for throughout these, you know, whole two weeks, and finally last night, as well.

I just felt even in long matches I felt I was hitting the ball well, I was seeing the ball better, I started serving better.  That was just so comforting knowing that I was playing my best or better when I had to.

Obviously, you know, against Venus the tiebreaker, I didn’t have to really, you know, play much or, you know, bring out my best because she was making more unforced errors.  I was able to raise my level even in the third set.

And then today kind of just went on from that third set since last night.  I was just able to just stay very focused, consistent, kind of use the weather conditions a little bit to take that as an advantage.

But, yeah, no, obviously, like I said before, I mean, it’s ‑‑ to me, probably what I’m most happy with is that I was able to raise my level at the most important times in the tournament.

Q.  Stosur, can you talk about what she does well and where you see improvement for her?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  I think Samantha, where I see the big difference is obviously, you know, we all know she has a great serve and a great forehand, but physically I think she’s always been a fit player.  She’s I think movement‑wise she’s become a lot better.  I think movement‑wise she definitely had a little bit of a ‑‑ I mean, if you have to pick one of her weakest parts of her game, I think movement‑wise was something where she could definitely still improve a lot, and she has done.

I think, you know, when I play against her I always just try to, obviously if you have a chance, open up the court into the forehand and just really try and put pressure on that backhand.  Because that’s a shot that, if you can put pressure on her, she can’t really use that slice too much.

Yeah, if you can just make her, you know, get a lot of balls back.  Obviously that’s something that, again, experience helps.  You know, obviously she’s made the Grand Slam final at the French Open, but experience‑wise, I think I have a little bit more of an advantage than she has.

That was definitely something I was falling back on when I was playing against her, as well.

Q.  A little off topic.  You know something about streaks.  What do you think of Esther Vergeer’s streak?

KIM CLIJSTERS:  I think it’s amazing.  We were actually talking in the gym a few days ago and just talking back about when we played in Tarbes, which was under‑12 or under‑14 tournament and she was there, you know, competing.

We started talking, and we kind of met for the first time there, I think.  It’s just amazing to see the run she’s had.  Talking about me, I mean, I’m nothing compared to the run that she’s had, which is very impressive, just how professional she takes it.

It’s something that I admire very much about her.  I’m excited to see her play another final tomorrow.

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