2009 US Open Final interview with: Kim Clijsters September 13th
TIM CURRY: Questions for your 2009 US Open champion, please.
Q. First of all, congratulations.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Thank you.
Q. It was a remarkable accomplishment. Being out on that court afterwards and seeing Jada’s image up on the big screen and absorbing the enormity of what you did as an athlete, but also what you did as a mother, if you can describe what was going through your body, your mind, your soul, everything.
KIM CLIJSTERS: I’m still, whenever I see my group, every time I say, like, I can’t believe this happened. Because it still seems so surreal that, yeah, in my third tournament back won my second Grand Slam.
Because it wasn’t in the plan, kind of. I just wanted to come here and get a feel for it all over again, play a Grand Slam so the to start the next year I didn’t have to go through all the new experiences over.
So, yeah, it just feels ?? I mean, it feels great, obviously. It’s a great feeling to have, but it’s confusing in a lot of ways, as well. It went so quickly, everything, so I didn’t really ?? especially after yesterday’s match. And then with the rain delays and everything, it just felt like especially these last couple of days everything went so quickly.
But it means the world, and I’m just so glad that I am able to share it with my husband who is here who wasn’t here a few years ago, and with my whole group who is here. And with our daughter, of course, is the greatest thing ever.
Q. If 18 months ago we called you in the hospital and said, Guess where you’re going to be in a couple of years, what would you have said?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I would have gone click. (laughter.)
No, yeah, until the start of this year, that’s when it came back. So 18 months ago or 18 and a half months ago, tennis wasn’t even on my mind at all, you know. I was just a new mom and just going through those experiences, as well, which is a lot of fun.
But, you know, yeah, no, I would have definitely hung the phone on you. Sorry.
Q. Was there a moment in this match or perhaps earlier in the tournament when you said to yourself, I’m going to win this? Maybe talk about this match, when this realization came, and if it all came earlier in the tournament?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Well, I played some ?? I think against Venus I had a really good feeling that I was capable of coping with the pace that obviously the Williams sisters have and a lot of the top girls have out there.
But then again when you play like somebody like Wozniacki today, she’s a completely different player. She hits the ball very heavy, but she doesn’t miss. Against the Williams sisters, you always have the feeling that if you can just hang in there, they might give you more easy points.
She didn’t do that today. I think I really had to be patient, as well, but also try not to play along with her game. So I didn’t have that feeling until, you know, when I had match point. I was like, Okay, maybe I can do this.
So, yeah, because in the past, I mean, it’s so easy to just lose focus if you start thinking like that. Obviously, you know, beating Serena, I just, after that match, I had a really good feeling, because I was just seeing the ball so well and playing good tennis.
You know, little nervous today and probably didn’t play as well as I did against Serena, but I still won. That’s all that counts for me now.
Q. How much more fulfilling can winning this as a mother and perhaps representing the entire world of mothers out there that you knew were pulling for you?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Well, I mean, if I inspired them, great. But, you know, this is something that I, yeah, in my wildest dreams could never imagine happening.
So I kind of have to get used to the situation a little bit, as well. You know, I look forward to having that role a little bit maybe. It’s something that I think as a woman and as a, you know, as a woman who has a family and being an athlete, I think it’s possible.
You know, I think there’s other athletes out there. Obviously in tennis we have Sybille Bammer, and she’s doing really good, as well. But to win a Grand Slam now I think is obviously a big deal in women’s tennis, and the history of women’s tennis.
So I’m glad that I’m a part of that history.
Q. Do you think Jada understood what was going on out there?
KIM CLIJSTERS: No.
Q. Do you think she’ll ever have any memories of touching that trophy?
KIM CLIJSTERS: That’s why it’s good all the photographers were there. Maybe I can get some pictures.
No, you know, she’s too young. I mean, just the way she was looking at herself up on the screen, Brian and I were just talking to her and like laughing, with, yeah, the way that she was handling it all.
Brian and I were, you know, a lot more nervous than she was. She just thought it was the most normal thing, I guess. So, no, it was nice to share that with my family, that moment, yeah.
Q. Can you compare how you feel about tennis now, you feel about being a pro tennis player now, compared to how you felt about those things when you decided to retire? Can you compare how you feel now with tennis compared to how you felt about tennis when you made the decision to retire?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Well, the motivation was missing then. It was something that, yeah, I came to an age where I really felt like, you know, combined with the injuries, I think, I wasn’t really 100% focused on my tennis anymore.
You know, as a woman, I came to a stage in my life, too, where I wanted to get married. We wanted to start a family, and I was glad. I feel very lucky that I got this chance to, you know, be back here now and that I made that decision, because it’s obviously been a good choice.
But, again, being a mother is obviously my first priority, and being a wife, so…
But I’m just very lucky that I’m able to combine both and that my family supports me in doing this.
Q. In following up on that, did you really need that break? You know, mentally and physically? Because now it seems like you’ve come back and you seem more confident, more relaxed, and you’re arguably a better player than you were in 2005.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Well, at that time I didn’t look at it that way. But maybe now I think just because I’ve become a lot more understanding of myself a little bit, I think, you get to deal or you know how to deal with when different emotions come up. Maybe that’s something when you’re young and you get nervous or, you know, things like that happen, or, you know, beating ?? just as an example, beating Venus a few rounds ago. Maybe in the past I would have been maybe influenced a little bit about good results and then kind of had the lack of that focus a little bit in the next round.
So even the situation with Serena last night, those are things that can, you know, when you’re 18, 19, can have a big impact on you. I think maybe that’s something that’s helped me now is that I have the experience of knowing how to deal with it and knowing myself a little bit better.
I think that’s the biggest difference, is that I know myself a lot better than I did a few years ago.
Q. One of my Belgian colleagues asked a great question, but I couldn’t understand the answer because it was in Flemish. We asked your coach, If the Kim who won here in 2005 played Kim today, who would win? Just from a pure tennis standpoint, I’m curious what you would say about that.
KIM CLIJSTERS: I don’t know. I got asked that question a few times in Cincinnati already, and Toronto, I think, by the Belgians. It’s something that I don’t ?? to be honest with you, I don’t have an answer for you. You know, maybe just because of, again, going back to knowing myself better.
I’m more capable of adjusting on the court and adjusting, you know, my emotions a little bit better and reading my emotions. I think that’s something that’s very important out there, especially in big matches like today and like yesterday.
I think that’s something that really helps you at those key points. But, yeah, so I don’t know. I really can’t compare both. I think that’s maybe one point that I would say that’s the big difference.
Q. Might make a good video game.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, let’s try. (laughter.)
Q. So it all happened so quickly for you. Kind of easy for us to look at it and assume that it was easy for you in a sense, but I’m sure it’s been incredibly tough. What was the toughest bit of your comeback? Was it the fitness? Was it getting back in shape again?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, the fitness, definitely. I think also the mental part of when I was hitting the ball ?? I was hitting the ball well when it was coming towards me, but just making that switch of knowing that my body is not in the same shape as what it used to be, and that took a lot of time.
I had a good feeling a few weeks into my practice sessions. I started hitting the ball really well and hitting the ball really clean, but it was just the movement and reading the game and everything that was missing.
So mentally I really had to just tell myself, Okay, Kim, you’re starting from zero here. This is not a little break that I had in between tournaments or anything. This is really kind of starting from zero and reteaching my body again and knowing how to work in tennis conditions.
So, yeah, that was probably the hardest in the beginning. I had a few ?? no swearwords like Serena yesterday, but a lot of swearing going on.
Q. How often have you heard from working moms since returning to the tour?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I mean obviously in my family, you know, I hear a lot of those people. I get a lot of advice from members of my family, my aunts and everybody. So it’s a lot of ?? that’s helped a lot. When I had questions, you know, with surrounding Jada or anything when I was traveling.
But, yeah, and then on tour I’ve been in touch, as you guys probably know, with Lindsay a little bit. When I started thinking about making a comeback, she helped me out and explained a few things.
Yeah, so, you know, just nice. Just a lot of supervisors, WTA supervisors here who work and our new CEO, she’s a working mom, as well. There is a lot of working moms around the tennis these days.
And Sybille Bammer, as well. I think she’s doing really well, and it’s just nice to see that, yeah, that it’s possible. And that was my biggest challenge, as well, to show, Okay, you know ?? I mean to show ?? now I’ve shown it, but at the time that was my biggest goal is to try to get back.
Q. Speaking of those swearwords, they were replayed quite a bit today. Do you feel like yesterday’s match ended on such a down note? And perhaps today how did you come back from that? What did you hear on TV today?
KIM CLIJSTERS: To be honest, today I didn’t watch any TV because I think last night I went to bed at 3:30 or almost 4:00, after everything here and after having my massage. I went outside for a little bit, walked around, and I just didn’t watch TV at all.
Oh, I did watch ?? I watched Ice Age with Jada a little bit. That’s all I did. And so, again, to me, the most positive thing that I took out of yesterday’s match was the way that I was playing. I really felt that I was dominating a lot of the situations, and I was playing really well at the important points.
I think that’s something that I tried to take out of the situation yesterday, although it ended, you know, in a different way than I would have liked. So it was up to me to just take out, you know, the things that I wanted to focus on, and not everything else that was happening.
Q. May I ask you about your tattoos? When did you get it and why?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Three months after Jada was born, and we have ?? my husband and I, we got our initials on our ring finger and Jada tattooed.
Q. How much did the lower expectations personally help you through the last several weeks, just thinking, Well, I’m just going to have fun and get into it and see how far we go, as opposed to maybe a few years ago when you expected yourself to do well? And on top of that, how do you top this?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, I don’t know how I’m going to top this, but it’s a challenge, you know. It’s a challenge now at each tournament you play to try to show your best tennis and to stay in good shape, obviously. It’s something that I’m going to be, you know, really focusing on is to try to pick ?? you know, think wisely about my schedule and pick my tournaments and just try to really whatever I play and whenever I play, just really try to, you know, peak at certain situations.
And, yeah, so I think it’s something that, you know, now with my coach, my physio and everybody, that’s something that we’re just going to keep focusing on, is making sure that, you know, I still work hard and everything.
But also, they also know how important it is to have that family life at the same time. So I’m not, you know, playing next week or anything. I just want to go home and relax for a little bit.
Q. But as for the lower expectations?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, you know, the expectations, I think ?? it’s something that I’ve always been ?? in the past, I remember, you know, when I did really well the summer leading up to, you know, the year that I won, there was obviously a lot of expectations on me.
But I’ve been always ?? I always felt comfortable in just pushing that aside. That was something I think that was created in the media room. But once you go out there, you really feel like, Okay, this is something ?? you still have to win all your matches, and so having to have been able to experience that, I think it’s helped me a lot this year as well to just be back and just, yeah, just, you know, know how to deal with a lot of situations again.
Q. Just on that scheduling issue, are you able to put any sort of time frame on how long your second career may last? And also, will collecting Grand Slam titles be a pastime pursuit in between motherhood?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, like I said, I haven’t really thought about my schedule that far ahead yet. Obviously, you know, my next tournament is going to be Luxembourg, and then, you know, I really don’t know what’s ahead yet. I mean, my sister is about to have a baby in a couple of weeks, and those are really important moments that I want to be home for.
So, you know, but then definitely Australia is a part of the schedule. You know, train hard again at the end of this year. Yeah, and then, you know, up to Australia. That’s something that I really look forward to.
But to really look further is something I don’t want even want to do yet, because everything is ?? yeah, so many things can happen. I just want to take it kind of one period at a time and just see, you know, what happens after that and just what you learn from those trips.
Q. You talk about your mental toughness you had to go through to come back to the US Open. When you got back to the Open, at what point time did you start realizing, Hey, I can win here? I have a chance at winning this? And then a second part of my question is this: Coming back, realizing the level that tennis has been played, do you classify tennis now at a higher level? Is it competing more tougher than when you left it? Or is it just as easy to cruise to the final as you did today?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Well, I definitely think that the level is ?? there’s a different type of tennis out there that’s being played, and I think the Open has been really interesting this year just because it’s been so unpredictable. That’s, I think, what people would like to see, I think. I remember a few years ago, you know, when Justine and I were playing each other again or when the Williams sisters were playing each other again, people were kind of complaining because it was everything repeating itself.
So I think it’s a good thing, because there are so many new players out there who have a great talent, and a lot of young girls, as well. But maybe they’re still missing that consistency a little bit. They can ?? on any good day, they can beat a lot of top players and a lot of players who have been in the top 10 now for a few years. But it’s still, yeah, it’s still ?? I don’t think women’s tennis has, you know, anything to worry about.
I think Wozniacki is a great player. I think she’s someone who is going to have a really great future ahead of her. She’s a smart girl. I think she played some smart tennis today. That’s something I think we want to see. It’s not just the hard hitters. She’s really someone who thinks out there, and that is fun to see, as well.
Q. Besides getting married and having a kid and maybe getting tattoos, the other big life change is that your father is no longer here. I’m wondering if he’s been in your thoughts the last couple weeks? Has that experience helped in any way?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, I’m going to try not to cry with this. But of course, with everything that you do, you know, it’s ?? you feel his presence. You know, it’s not just me, it’s my sister, it’s Brian. We very strongly feel his presence. That’s something that’s very comforting at the same time, but it’s also something that’s a little bit sad.
There are things that happen, and I really believe in signs. So there has been so many things that have happened in these last few weeks, or even in the last months where we feel like, Okay, he’s watching over us, and that’s just a nice feeling to have.
Q. When you retired, some of us thought, she’s definitely coming back.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Really?
Q. Yes. Loves the competition. She’s not going to be able to stay out of it. Other people thought, no, she’s getting married and have a baby and she’s not going to come back at all. Did you ever feel like, I never want to play competitive pro tennis again?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yes, definitely. It was literally only until the start of this year where ?? it’s not that I thought like, I’ll never play tennis again. I just didn’t think about it. I just didn’t think it ?? you know, looked at it as an option for me.
I just, you know, yeah, because there were so many things going on with the wedding and I was pregnant and I was breastfeeding and everything. So you don’t get into the whole training routine or anything until at the start of this year when I got that, yeah, the invitation to Wimbledon again.
I think that’s how, yeah, how it all started and how I got that competitiveness back, I think, to just not just want to go play exhibitions here and there and just to do this serious tournaments and just to see if I can, you know, just really challenge myself, I think, was the biggest thing, I think.
Q. Roger Federer said he wishes to keep playing until his children play tennis. Do you feel the same way?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about that. Obviously it’s ?? we’re not the type of parents who are going to be pushing tennis racquets into her hands and telling her she has to play tennis. Obviously you want your children to find their passion, and whether it is in sports or whether it’s in music or anything, you know, it’s ?? you know, you, as a parent, you want to support them in whatever choice they decide to take.
You want to guide them, but you don’t want to tell them ?? you don’t want to push your will or your anything on them, you know.
So we’re very, you know, open. I mean, she’s 18 months. I think you just want to see her grow up and just get to know her and know her personality a lot better.
Q. Somebody asked you a few matches back to comment on Melanie Oudin’s run here, and you recounted your first Grand Slam experience. You talked about just kind of walking around and the awe that you had for the magnitude of the event and the people that were around and players that you were in awe of and so forth. Obviously a few years later, you know, you seemed to have lost that and your motivation to play tennis. Do you feel now that maybe some of those feelings that a young teenage girl have have been rekindled, and maybe there is an appreciation for something there even now that you didn’t have even back at that point?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Maybe a little bit, but I’ve always felt very lucky that I was able to play the sport that, you know, I loved and that I still look at as a hobby. I mean, this is something that ?? it’s such a great sport, and it’s such a great environment to be a part of.
But I can understand, you know, someone like Oudin where, you know. From one day to another, you know, especially here in the States, I think everybody was watching her. I think that, you know, I mean, you need to have good people around you then to be able to guide you into a positive, to use it in a positive way.
And you know, I felt very ?? I still feel very lucky that I’ve been able to have had that. I’ve had good people, especially my parents, to just be able to guide me and still have a normal life and don’t take the other stuff that’s going on and the fame and everything, to take that too serious, because, you know, that’s not real life.
So you just ?? I think she’s a smart girl. She’s a sweet girl. I think she’s going to do just fine. Obviously now with a few of the girls that have done well here in the Grand Slam, the expectations are starting to come up, and that’s going to be interesting now to see how they’re going to cope with that in the next few tournaments.
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