Memories flood back as Kim Clijsters bows out

 

When Kim Clijsters first came to Wimbledon as a junior, she described the All England Club as being "like Disneyland to another child".

Yesterday, however, the Belgian bade a poignant farewell to the world's most famous tournament in the worst possible way – by taking just two games off her German opponent, Angelique Kerber, in a 6-1 6-1 fourth-round defeat.

One of the most popular players on the circuit, she is retiring for a second time after the US Open, but was certainly not wallowing in nostalgia and self-pity. "Not at all," she said. "I just had the feeling that there was absolutely nothing I could have done today to win the match. I just felt that my opponent was better on every level. That's all I was thinking about."

The memories flooded back as she recalled how her father always sat in the same seat every day because he thought it would bring her luck, but the English weather spoilt the fairy story. "He was here for three or four days and I don't think he saw me play for one minute because it rained for three days in a row," she explained.

"He sat on the side of the courts on the wooden benches. He sat in the rain and waited for the ball kids or the groundsmen to take the covers off because he wanted that seat, because he thought that would bring me luck. So he just sat on that seat. The next day he rushed over to that seat again. So that's one of the funny memories that I have with him."

Clijsters, who never reached the Wimbledon final, retired from tennis in 2007 to have a family, and her father died before she made a spectacular comeback in 2009 and won the US Open weeks later.

The enduring image of that victory will be Clijsters and her 18-month-old daughter, Jada, revelling in the limelight after she won. She and Brian Lynch, the basketball player, posed proudly as their daughter played happily with the trophy.

Cljisters, the first mother to win a Grand Slam tournament since Evonne Goolagong-Cawley in 1980, is now nurturing those memories with Jada, who is the spitting image of her mother.

"I explain to her more about tennis on the road, especially here about Wimbledon, about the history," she said. "I have caught myself explaining little details to her that I remember when I was a child."

Those first matches at Wimbledon as a junior certainly ranked as treasured souvenirs. "I think that the first year that I played here, I was here just to take it all in," she said. "This was like Disneyland to another child. So it was such a beautiful thing.

"Playing Steffi [Graf] here was for me definitely one of the my dreams come true as a young, up-and-coming player. To be playing Steffi in her last Wimbledon was very, very special."

It is typical of the grace which has made Clijsters such a popular figure in the women's game that the Belgian was forthcoming in her praise towards her conqueror, Kerber.

The eighth seed will now play her compatriot and the woman who beat Maria Sharapova, Sabine Lisicki, for a place in the last four, and Clijsters was clearly impressed with her game.

"The way that she played today – obviously, this is the first time I ever played against her – but she played incredibly well. I think she played close to the perfect match. I never had a chance to get into the match. There was no time when she dropped her level a little bit: she served better, returned better, and just in the rallies she was hitting the ball very deep, very fast on to the bounce, anticipating really well.

"It was too good. So I look forward to just watching her here for the rest of this tournament and just seeing her in the future and how she does against different players."

It is a great shame for the women's game that Clijsters' wonderful touch will only be enjoyed at one further Grand Slam.

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