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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Promise fulfilled
By Piers Newbery

Kim Clijsters

When Kim Clijsters served for her first Grand Slam title at the US Open on Saturday night, she could have been forgiven an attack of the jitters.

Leading Mary Pierce by a set and 5-1 the match would have been as good as over for anyone else, but this was Kim.

Long recognised as the nicest person in the game, she has also had to contend with the most feared adjective in tennis: choker.

Three Grand Slam final defeats to Justine Henin-Hardenne certainly suggested she had a mental block when up against her apparently steelier compatriot.

But the key piece of evidence for the doubters centred on that 5-1 scoreline.

Clijsters led by that score in the final set of her 2003 Australian Open semi-final against Serena Williams - and lost.

It was a despereate defeat, humiliating even, and when most of the following year was lost to a wrist injury, there looked to be little way back.

But the Belgian spent her time out of the game wisely.

There were a lot of boring weeks, when I was in the plasters, doing all these crazy exercises
Kim Clijsters

"Losing those Grand Slams, not just the finals but also losing to Serena in Australia, those definitely motivate you to work harder and to work on a lot of things," she said.

"There were a lot of boring weeks, when I was in the plasters, doing all these crazy exercises from starting to move your fingertips. And they're very frustrating.

"You just can't do all those things yourself. You have to have your family, your friends to help you, to push you."

The time on the sidelines might have been hard but it allowed her to indulge in off-court interests, and surely prompted her recent declaration that she will quit in 2007.

Born: Bilzen, Belgium
DoB: 8/6/83
Height: 5ft 8in
Turned pro: 1997
Titles: 28
Prize money: 6.8m

With the promise of an early and fulfilling retirement from tennis ahead of her, the 22-year-old is determined to make the best of every minute on court.

A spectacular return from injury in February saw victories in her second and third tournaments, beating Lindsay Davenport in Indian Wells and Maria Sharapova in Miami.

By the time she arrived in New York, Clijsters had picked up six titles in 2005 and 49 victories, making her the form player and the favourite.

But it was not until she recovered from a set and 4-2 down to beat Venus Williams in the quarter-finals that we, and maybe she, really believed.

The semi-final against Sharapova was an epic match, but one she largely controlled, and the final looked to be a breeze as her sheer energy overwhelmed Pierce.

And in the final game, when she was pegged back from 30-0 to 30-30 and then missed her first match point, she remained the calmest person in the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Four previous Grand Slam final losses and the nightmare of a career-threatening injury were blown away with one final serve.

"There's a time and a place for everything," she said. "Maybe it wasn't my time yet in those Grand Slams.

"I think everything that happened, happened for a reason. Maybe that's why I'm sitting here now, with this trophy next to me."

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