Kim Clijsters: The World Cup (and Wimbledon) in mind
The Belgian talks to Paul Newman about motherhood, her return to SW19 and her father's goal against Uruguay at Italia '90
Thursday 17 June 2010
Kim Clijsters is looking forward to her first Wimbledon for four years but admits she will not be giving it her undivided attention next week. Not only does she have her two-year-old daughter, Jada, to care for, but she will also have half an eye on events in South Africa.
The current World Cup is the first since the death last year of Clijsters' father, who was a key member of the Belgium team that reached the 1986 semi-finals in Mexico. Four years later, when Kim was seven, Leo Clijsters played in Italia '90 as Belgium were knocked out by David Platt's last-minute winner for England.
"Italy was the tournament of his I remember the most, but I think Mexico was more special for him," Clijsters recalled. "In the last few weeks they have been showing a lot of past Belgium games from the World Cup on television, particularly as Belgium aren't in this World Cup. My Dad's name came up a lot. It's mixed emotions. I miss him, but I'm also very proud."
Did she remember her father scoring against Uruguay in Italia '90? "Yes, it was a header," she said. "As the daughter of a footballer you think the goal is important, but you also think of other things – the presents he brought home, little things like that. He brought back big sombreros from Mexico, with the clapping hands on top. He kept a lot of the Belgian shirts he wore and some he swapped with other players."
Clijsters, 27, was too young to appreciate fully her father's achievements at the time, but hopes that her brother-in-law, Jelle van Damme, a current Belgian international who has just joined Wolverhampton Wanderers from Anderlecht, might play in a future World Cup.
"I'm definitely going to try and come over and watch him play in England," she said. "I've always been an English football fan, so this is a bonus. I actually have a reason to come over and watch some English football."
She added: "At home I always played football in the backyard, with my Dad or even with my sister. And, in the tennis school where we were, we played a lot of football. I've always been part of a football tradition."
As for Wimbledon, where she will be playing for the first time since coming out of retirement last summer, Clijsters says "there is always a different atmosphere with the World Cup on".
There are plenty of other reasons why this year's tournament will feel very different for the former world No 1, who has looked in good form at this week's Aegon International in Eastbourne despite a recent injury lay-off.
It will be the first Wimbledon she has attended as a wife and mother and the first without her father, who always used to accompany her to England. Wimbledon also played a big part in her decision to come back last year, her appetite having been whetted by the invitation to play in the event to celebrate the opening of the Centre Court roof.
Both of Clijsters' Grand Slam victories came at the US Open, the second of them last year in only her third tournament back, when she became the first mother to win a major title for 29 years. She has also reached Australian and French Open finals, but has never gone beyond the last four at the All England Club.
"Wimbledon has always been the Grand Slam where I would have looked to do better," she said. "I was there with my Dad every year and we had a very intense relationship over those two weeks. We were both so proud to be there, so excited. Emotionally it will be a little bit harder not to have him there."
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