Tennis: Clijsters juggling motherhood, tennis in return
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
Kim Clijsters is still adjusting to her second career as a tennis player.
The first full season of the U.S. Open champion’s comeback is presenting new challenges: figuring out a balanced schedule, needing more rest than she used to, traveling with her 2-year-old daughter Jada.
Oh, and getting everyone fed on time.
“Days are totally different now. In the past ... everything is kind of based around you,” Clijsters said. “When I come home from practice, I have to make sure that I’m home before lunch or that I can pick up food from the supermarket and start cooking lunch. It’s constant until Jada goes to sleep. And then, kind of, clean up the house, and then you have an hour where you can sit back and relax a bit. It takes a lot of energy.”
Her surprising victory at the final Grand Slam tournament of 2009 made Clijsters a Laureus World Sports Awards nominee for Comeback of the Year. Winners will be announced Wednesday at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Other categories include World Sportsman of the Year (nominees are tennis’ Roger Federer, track and field’s Usain Bolt and Kenenisa Bekele, cycling’s Alberto Contador, soccer’s Lionel Messi, and motorcycling’s Valentino Rossi) and World Sportswoman of the Year (nominees are tennis’ Serena Williams, skiing’s Lindsey Vonn, track and field’s Sanya Richards and Shelly-Ann Fraser, and swimming’s Federica Pellegrini and Britta Steffen).
Other nominees for the comeback award are Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, cycling’s Lance Armstrong, golf’s Tom Watson, and track and field’s Jessica Ennis and Blanka Vlasic.
The 26-year-old Clijsters has been a finalist for a Laureus honor twice before — for Newcomer of the Year in 2002 and Sportswoman of the Year in 2006 — but never won.
She knows whom she’d vote for this time, saying: “I’ve always been a very big fan of Lance Armstrong,” the 1999-2005 Tour de France champion who returned to that race last year and finished third.
Clijsters was away from tennis from May 2007 until August 2009, getting married to American Brian Lynch and giving birth to Jada in the interim. When she got back on tour, the Belgian immediately displayed the same big groundstrokes and perpetual-motion court coverage that helped her win the 2005 U.S. Open and briefly reach No. 1 in the rankings.
She came into last year’s U.S. Open without a ranking and left as a two-time major champion and member of the top 20, having beaten both Williams sisters en route to the title. Serena Williams called it “one of the greatest comebacks ever.”
Even Clijsters was taken aback at how well things went.
“After having my daughter, and everything, and being back in tennis, the results have come a lot faster than I think myself and my whole team kind of expected,” Clijsters said. “But I trained really hard to try and get back into shape. The confidence and my level and everything just grew gradually.”
She is ranked No. 17 this week, heading into the hard-court event at Indian Wells, Calif.
It will be her first official tournament since a 6-0, 6-1 loss to Nadia Petrova in the third round of the Australian Open. Once one of the busiest players on tour, playing week-in, week-out, no matter the city or the surface, Clijsters now is picking and choosing events carefully.
“I’ve definitely cut back a lot,” Clijsters said. “I’m a little bit older. Toward the end of my first career, I had a lot of injuries that I think could have been avoided if I took enough time to rest.”
With all of the globe-trotting — “Once in a while, there’s some surprises with the hotel you stay at,” she said — and the “draining” parenting, Clijsters finds herself telling her coach or fitness trainer to give her a break once in a while.
“At the end of the day, you just feel a little bit more tired than when you just focus on tennis by itself,” she said. “But my team knows that. They know I want to be a mother, and that’s my first priority in life. Luckily, I’m not the type of person who needs six to seven hours of practice every day to feel good on the court. If I can have a good hour-and-a-half, two hours of good shots, then that’s something that certainly is enough.”