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Page last updated at 20:47 GMT, Thursday, 17 June 2010 21:47 UK

Kim Clijsters ready for return to Wimbledon

Wimbledon Championships
Venue: All England Club, London Date: 21 June - 4 July
Coverage:
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Kim Clijsters
Clijsters played her first grass-court tournament for four years in Eastbourne

By Piers Newbery

Kim Clijsters will return to the All England Club a very different person to the one who walked off Centre Court following a semi-final defeat by Justine Henin four years ago.

Since then, the 27-year-old has spent two years in retirement, married American basketball player Brian Lynch, given birth to their daughter Jada and lost her father, Lei, to lung cancer.

An appearance at last year's Centre Court exhibition event confirmed to Clijsters that she wanted to get back to the sport full-time, and when she returns to competitive action at Wimbledon next week the transformation from the 23-year-old who played there back in 2006 will be complete.

"I do feel different, I feel more complete as a person," Clijsters told BBC Sport.

606: DEBATE
blackswan

"I've always wanted to become a mother and start a family and I think it's something that makes more your life so much more special. Tennis has always been important but it's never been the most important thing in my life because it's a game.

"It's something that I enjoyed doing when I was four years old and I still enjoy doing, but having my husband and our daughter Jada here just puts everything in perspective.

"It's a game and I try to do my best, train hard, work hard and see how good you are on the day."

The family idyll was shattered 18 months ago when Clijsters' father died and returning to his favourite tournament will provide her with an extra challenge.

"My dad was one of the people who was always there with me and that's something that I'm going to have to deal with, because it's going to be emotional not having him there," said Clijsters.

It seems that will be easier to cope with because of the family life Clijsters plans to recreate when she sets up home in Wimbledon village for what she hopes will be a fortnight.

Kim Clijsters with husband Brian Lynch and daughter Jada at the US Open
Clijsters with husband Brian and daughter Jada at the US Open

"I love it," said Clijsters. "It's always been my favourite tournament just because it is so relaxing and you can walk to the courts with your tennis bag on your back.

"You go to the grocery store, you make your own food - you control your own life a little bit more and you don't depend on room service or cars or transportation.

"That's something I really enjoy, you just have a little bit of your life at home on the road. In our situation now that's something we try to create every week and it's easier at Wimbledon."

Much of the first part of Clijsters' career was characterised by her failure for many years to win a Grand Slam title, despite reaching three major finals and gaining the number one ranking in 2003, and even though she was only 22 at the time, her victory at the 2005 US Open felt a long time in coming.

If that relieved a huge burden from her shoulders, Clijsters' stunning victory in her first Grand Slam tournament after coming out of retirement at last year's US Open immediately confirmed her return to the game's elite and eased any sense of pressure that might have built up.

"I was always taught by my parents, and especially my dad, that pressure is something that, especially with the media, is created," she said.

"It wasn't always easy when I was younger, as a teenager going through those stages and being in the spotlight, but it's something that makes you stronger.

Tim Henman, Kim Clijsters, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf

Highlights - Graf/Agassi v Henman/Clijsters

"You learn how to deal with it and in a lot of those tough situations you learn to know yourself, and I think that's something I know now a lot better than I did a few years ago. I guess everybody does, it's not just if you're an athlete or a sportsperson.

"Now that I'm older and I hope a little bit wiser I can look back and learn from matches that happened four or five years ago."

Clijsters arrived at Eastbourne last week with just 19 matches under her belt in 2010, having torn a muscle in her left foot in April that will require taping for several months to come.

"There are still moments if I have to go for a wide backhand that I'm a little more cautious," she admitted, "but I think on grass you automatically have that anyway, you're a little bit lower so you don't have to be making hard pushes off to the side."

Despite the interruptions she has managed to win two titles this year in spectacular fashion, beating Henin in an epic Brisbane final in January and thrashing Venus Williams to win the illustrious Miami title in April, but she has yet to make her mark in Grand Slams in 2010.

"I haven't done really well at the Grand Slams this year, not playing at the French Open because of my injury and playing a really bad match at the Australian Open against Nadia Petrova, so I just want to be more consistent," she said.

"Obviously it hasn't helped me being injured and not having the matches but I feel that I'm close to my best game, you just need to make the transition of that feeling into matches."

The images of Clijsters celebrating her US Open victory on court with daughter Jada last September were vivid proof that taking time off to start a family did not necessarily signal the end of a tennis player's career.

But there are more challenges ahead and, asked what makes Wimbledon special, it is pretty clear that a first title in south west London would be at the top of that list.

"When you walk from the house to the courts, you walk past the people sleeping in tents with their banners for all their favourite players - at every other Grand Slam you almost get driven into the stadium and here you can actually interact with the fans," said Clijsters.

"But it's the history, you really feel it whether it's walking to the practice courts at Aorangi Park or to Centre Court, it's that feeling..... you're at Wimbledon."



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see also
Clijsters thrashes Venus in final
03 Apr 10 |  Tennis
Clijsters beats Henin in thriller
09 Jan 10 |  Tennis
Clijsters seals dream US Open win
14 Sep 09 |  Tennis
Stars play under Wimbledon roof
17 May 09 |  Tennis
Clijsters ends her tennis career
26 Mar 09 |  Tennis
Troubled Clijsters to quit in '07
26 Aug 05 |  Tennis
Henin prevails in Belgian battle
06 Jul 06 |  Tennis


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