Clijsters bids farewell to Wimbledon
Originally published on: 03/07/12 00:00
It was 1999 and Steffi Graf was making her final appearance at the All England Club. The 22-time Grand Slam champion was coming to the end of a stellar career when she found herself facing an up-and-coming 16-year-old from Belgium. The youngster had surprised many, emerging comfortably from qualifying and dropping only 13 games in the first three rounds, which included an upset of world No.12 Amanda Coetzer. However, in the round of 16, Graf’s experience told as the German saw off her talented opponent 6-2, 6-2, but it was clear to everyone that it wouldn’t be the last time we heard the name Kim Clijsters.
Fast forward 13 years and it was another German, Angelique Kerber, who brought the curtain down on Clijsters’ Wimbledon career. The 6-1, 6-1 defeat may have been the 29-year-old’s worst loss at Wimbledon but when the dust settles, yesterday’s performance will be nothing more than a blotch on an otherwise remarkable career.
“I won't be sorry about anything,” said an up-beat Clijsters, who will retire after this year’s US Open. “I mean, I know that every time that I've played here I've given my best, and that's the only thing that I can try. You know, some days it's good, some days it's great, and some days it's not good enough. And that's something that I'll never regret. I'll never say that I didn't work hard enough or I didn't practice hard enough.
"Playing Steffi here was for me definitely one of my dreams come true as a young player. To be playing Steffi in her last Wimbledon was very, very special."
Clijsters, a four-time Grand Slam champion – US Open (2005, 2009, 2010), Australian Open (2011) – never reached the final at Wimbledon, falling to Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport in 2003 and 2005 respectively at the semi-final stage.
A two-time finalist at Roland Garros, grass was never Clijsters’ favourite surface but that didn’t prevent the Belgian from reflecting fondly on her Wimbledon memories.
“It obviously all started I think from when I was a youngster,” she remembered. “Being at home even before I was a junior watching Wimbledon during summer holidays from Belgium. You just kind of felt the magic coming through the television, I think. So that was kind of my first connection with Wimbledon.
“And then as I got older, when I was able to be here for the first time as a junior, it was just very special. I mean, I think the first year that I played here, I was here just to take it all in. I don't even think I was here to play tennis. I needed to just open my eyes and look at everything. It was so new. It was such, you know, an amazing thing. It was like to me this was like Disneyland to another child.”
Although Clijsters’ didn't get her fairytale ending at the All England Club, she bows out with her head held high. The ultimate professional, Clijsters is roundly applauded for how she has conducted herself both on and off the court throughout her career.
The Bilzen native has been hindered by injuries during the last year and she’ll now be hoping for a clean bill of health ahead of her debut at the Olympic Games and her last appearance at the US Open.