She was classy, she was kind, but Kim Clijsters was also driven. This woman from Belgium was ranked #1 in the world and won 41 WTA singles titles, including four majors (US Open in ’05, ’09-’10 and Australian Open ’11). Prior to being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Clijsters met with ITHF historian-at-large Joel Drucker at Roland-Garros to review three of her finest moments.
ONE: Early Breakthrough
Still in her teens, Clijsters was absolutely on fire at the 2002 WTA Tour Championships, the year-end tournament featuring the world’s top eight players. “Just to play in that was an honor,” said Clijsters. “These events were as big as Slams.” Little fazed Clijsters that week, as she tore through the field, including victories over her compatriot, Justine Henin, and additional fierce rivals such as Serena and Venus Williams.
TWO: Family Values
Clijsters’ father, Lei, had died in January 2009 – nearly two years after an injury-riddled Kim had announced her retirement. But soon after Lei’s death, Clijsters – who’d given birth to a daughter, Jada Elle, in early 2008 -- began to train, and by the summer, entered a few North American events in hopes of preparing for an arduous 2010 campaign. She ended up exceeding all expectations with a title run at the US Open, an effort that once again included impressive victories over both Williams sisters. Not since Evonne Goolagong won Wimbledon in 1980 had a mother won a Grand Slam singles title. “What an emotional rollercoaster that year was,” said Clijsters. “I didn’t think I’d play again. And then, to have memories of my father and Jada with me at the awards ceremony – that was all so amazing.”
THREE: Aussie Kim, Aussie Champion
Even before she’d dated Australian star Lleyton Hewitt, Clijsters long had an affinity for the land Down Under. At home, weathering many a cold Belgian winter, she’d watched the likes of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles earn titles in the hot Aussie summer. So Clijsters was delighted to at last break through in Melbourne with her own run to victory. The final went the distance, Clijsters taking down Li Na, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Citing the nickname the locals had given her during her time with Hewitt, an elated Clijsters said after the match, “I finally feel like you guys can call me Aussie Kim because I won the title. Even when things weren’t going good, you guys were really supportive of me and I really appreciate it.”