Kim sees bright side of a dog's life

Bubbly Belgian feels strain of her treadmill existence, but gets by with a little help from her friends
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Kim Clijsters rolls up the left trouser leg of her tracksuit, way above the knee, to reveal the damage. "Look at all the bruises," she says, almost with a matter of pride. The world No 2 has had a tough time of it with injuries, but it is not tennis that has left her black and blue. No, it's down to something else altogether.

In her very large garden Clijsters has a large trampoline on which she cavorts with her enormous dog Diesel, a Great Dane, and in the course of bouncing up and down the Belgian and the Dane regularly crash into each other.

It is one way of preparing for Wimbledon, for which she is the second seed, a place above her compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne. She also has two English bulldogs, Beauty and Neo, and she is clearly missing them, but then Clijsters is no longer your stereotypical member of the tour. She can see the endgame and has plans for another life.

"If tennis was on my mind 24/7 I would have gone crazy. It's important to me but not the most important thing in my life," she says.

A couple of weeks ago Clijsters turned 23, which in tennis-speak is almost mumsy. Indeed, she intends to give the circuit one more whirl next season before retiring at the ripe old age of 24 to raise a family in the house she has had built in the same street as her parents, grandparents and sister Elke.

At one point it looked as if her partner would be the Australian Lleyton Hewitt (they won the mixed doubles final at Wimbledon in 2000) but her new running mate is Brian Lynch, an American basketball player who earns a crust playing in Belgium for Bree, Clijsters' home town.

It is simply not in the genes to marry an accountant. Kim's father, Leo, is a football coach who was Belgium's player of the year in 1988 and her mother, Els, was a top gymnast, although she never performed on a trampoline with a Great Dane.

All that Clijsters is not gold. In fact, at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne, her earrings, necklace and rings are silver, and it looks as if she has cornered a hefty chunk of the Antwerp diamond market. In the Hastings Direct Championship in Eastbourne Clijsters was the defending champion,but was beaten by Henin-Hardenne in the semi-finals on Friday. Even so she discovered that the grass in Sussex was right up her street.

"This was a turning point for," she says, "and it was only a matter of time before things fell into place." Clay or grass? "Clay, my God, no. Get me to the green grass. It's a shame we are on it for only three weeks. A lot of it is in the mind when you switch surfaces. I automatically adapt and find I can play aggressive tennis on grass. My mindset is never different. I am fully committed and motivated."

When fit. In 2004 she had an operation on her left wrist but last season she returned with a vengeance, winning nine titles, including the US Open, her Grand Slam breakthrough. She had been beginning to look like the Colin Montgomerie of women's tennis, having been runner-up in four Grand Slam finals. "I played my best tennis," says Clijsters, who was so hot she came within a two-handed backhand of the world No 1 spot.

She won 67 matches out of 76 and took home almost $4 million (£2.2m) and a Porsche Cayenne. As the winner of what is called the US Open Series (she also won at Indian Wells, Miami, Stanford, and Los Angeles) her prize-money when she won the US Open was doubled to $2.2m, the biggest cheque in the history of women's sport and the biggest in any official tennis event, men's or women's. And in the final she barely broke sweat, beating Mary Pierce 6-3 6-1.

At the end of the next fortnight the women's champion at Wimbledon will receive £625,000 (somebody on the minimum wage would have to work 113,640 hours, 14,205 days, 2,841 weeks, 710 months or 59 years for a similar return), her male counterpart £655,000.

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, has told Wimbledon she is "deeply concerned" over the gender disparity and has called for women's prize-money to match the men's. So where does Clijsters (with career prize-money of $13m, she doesn't need to invest in a Tessa) stand on the issue?

"Of course we should be paid the same, we deserve it. The men might play more matches but they can last longer because they're physically stronger, but someone like Amélie Mauresmo works just as hard as Roger Federer," she says.

About the only thing Mauresmo, who won $1m for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour championship last year, and Federer have in common is that they are the top seeds at Wimbledon.

"People only see us on court, but we work and train hard and it all takes a bit out of you," Clijsters says. "It's physically demanding. The travel is also hard, even for an athlete. We need a longer break between the French Open and Wimbledon, and the WTA is working on things and looking to change the schedule.

"There are still so many things I have to do, for my wrist, my back, my hip, my knee, ankle. I have to do so many exercises I'm sick of it. I never seem to stay healthy for a whole year. I want to play as well as I know I can. When you play these top girls you have to move well and be 100 per cent fit.

"I can no longer play singles and doubles or three tournaments in a row. I hope I can last another season."

Clijsters has been in England for 10 days. Last week she did a promotion at Harrods with one of her sponsors and also went to Wembley Arena for the Mary J Blige concert. As Mary J would put it in her new single, "Enough Cryin' ".

Clijsters (deep down she is a bubbly blonde who would look good advertising a Belgian beer) admits that life on the road has its compensations. "At home I do my own washing and clean my own sheets," she says. "Here I'm staying in a nice hotel and I don't have to do anything."