Monday, November 06, 2006

Wk.44- The Curious Case of Kim Clijsters

This weekend's headlines celebrated Kim Clijsters' defense of her Hasselt title in her native Belgium after a ten-week layoff because of an injured wrist.

The facts highlight all that is good and bad about Clijsters, and her career.

Clijsters began 2006 looking as if her U.S. Open title the previous fall might have changed everything. A big-time win at 2005's YEC DID change the course of Amelie Mauresmo's career this season, but Clijsters didn't experience the same overwhelming desire to satisfy any pangs of hunger for more of the same. Instead, her season devolved into the same old pattern that defined her career previous to her shining moment in New York, including crumbling against fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne in a slam SF, then pushing herself onto the court against all sense in Montreal, where she ultimately injured that left wrist badly enough to be unable to defend her Open title. Not to be outdone by herself, Clijsters recently put her health in jeopardy again when she bruised her tailbone after falling over her dog while, of all things, kicking a soccer ball in a garden with her fiance less than two weeks before the YEC.

It's a recklessness intrinsic to a player who's never much looked beyond the moment presented before her, a trait that's both the key to her much-talked-about likability, but also why she'll forever be the champion who never seemed to really care about being a champion.

As anticipated in this space at the start of the season, it looks as if that Flushing Meadows crown will indeed be the aberration that will prevent Clijsters' career from being a footnote... but won't prevent history from wondering what she might have accomplished had she had the same drive and (yes, self-centered) attitude that fellow Belgian Henin-Hardenne and every true champion really needs to overcome long odds.

Tiger Woods doesn't play well in Ryder Cup competition? So what? Golf's best champion is all about winning major titles... not some ridiculously overhyped non-event in which he must join up with the same players he routinely pysches out on the PGA tour. In many ways, Woods is very much like Maria Sharapova (who's yet to play her first Fed Cup match, though she's schedule to do so next year... which should be quite an interesting experiment, should she actually go through with it)... but not Clijsters.

Did the U.S. Open title quench Clijsters' desire, what little there was of it, to be the very best in her chosen profession? Maybe.

Oh, Clijsters still wants to win. She wouldn't be a world class athlete, and daughter of another, if that wasn't the case. But sacrifices have to be made for a champion to be all that she can be, and some of them aren't necessarily easy ones for an easy-going, fun-loving, Miss Congeniality-type like Clijsters. Separating herself, if not actually physically, then mentally and in spirit from her competitors would cause her to flirt with actually being perceived as "unlikable"... and that's a so very un-Kim like thing to do. Remember, this is the same player who spends rain delays running through on-court puddles and squeegeeing with the stadium workers. In a way, to commit herself to being such a player whose very presence and attitude could intimidate would probably sap a great deal of the fun out of the entire endeavor for her.

That's why there'll always be a "what if" component to her career, which she still says she plans to end sometime next season. At this point, it looks like she'll keep her word, citing her numerous injuries and her want to live a "normal" and "healthy" life as the main reason. Another player, just months after reaching her career pinnacle at age 22, might have used 2006 as a fueling station for a long career full of even greater success, but Clijsters seems to have made it a rest stop before a long goodbye in 2007.

I know I, for one, WANTED to like Clijsters when she was first bursting onto the scene. Ironically, at the same time, I didn't particularly care for Henin-Hardenne. But, over time I realized that JHH cared more (maybe too much for her own good at times?) than Clijsters. The lack of ego is all fine and good in a "normal" person, but in an athletic champion? Where's THAT person without the will to achieve because she WANTS it more than anyone else to a point where it makes her physically ill to see another player accomplish something she knows SHE should have done? (Hmmm, JHH in Melbourne? Nah... right?) If they're as talented as Clijsters, it leaves them with a career littered with wasted opportunities. Henin-Hardenne will have to be dragged off the court well past her sunset, leaving no regrets behind, while Clijsters seems like she'll skip off while it's still daylight.

Oh, she can have all her Hasselt titles, which I'm sure she'll always "cherish" because they were won "at home." But, to paraphrase a famous movie line, all the Hasselt (and Antwerp) titles "don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." The same goes for all the "felt good at the time" titles on Clijsters' ledger... when the grander ones that would have been more "painful" to attain, but also more rewarding in the long run, are commemorated by the trophies in someone else's case.

Thing about it is, Clijsters won't likely care. And if she ever wakes up one morning and does, it'll probably be too late for her to do anything about it. Oh, well. C'est La Vie.

Now she's on to Madrid, then the countdown to the end can finally begin...not a moment too soon, either. Backspin will miss Clijsters when she's gone.

But not that much, really.

**WEEK 44**

HASSELT, BELGIUM (III-Decoturf/Indoor)
S: Kim Clijsters d. Kaia Kanepi 6-3/3-6/6-4
D: Raymond/Stosur d. Daniilidou/Woehr

S: Marion Bartoli d. Olga Poutchkova 6-0/6-0
D: Granville/Gullickson d. Craybas/Jidkova

...Clijsters' 33rd career title ties her with Venus Williams, but is it enough preparation for her to be any sort of force this week in Madrid?
RISERS: Marion Bartoli & Vera Zvonareva

...Bartoli began her year with a win in the Auckland final over Zvonareva, and both were still on their game as their tour seasons came to a close. Bartoli won her third title of the year (and second of the 4Q) in Quebec City, bageling Olga Poutchkova in 41 minutes in the final. Meanwhile, in Hasselt, Zvonareva reached the SF with wins over Vera Dushevina, Kirsten Flipkens and Aravane Rezai.
SURPRISES: Kaia Kanepi & Lilia Osterloh

...Estonia's Kanepi, 21, reached her first career tour final in Hasselt. World #91 Kanepi made it through qualifying, then upset Eleni Daniilidou, Francesca Schiavone and Michaella Krajicek. She's now at a career-best #65. In Quebec City, 28-year old American Osterloh reached her first WTA SF since Canberra '02 after knocking out Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak in the quarters.
VETERANS: Tamarine Tanasugarn
...three weeks ago, Tanasugarn reached the Bangkok final. Last week, she won the $50K challenger in Shanghai over Akgul Amanmuradova. Schiavone ultimately went down in the Hasselt QF against Kanepi, but wins over Meghann Shaughnessy and Agnieszka Radwanska still helped to conclude her singles season on a decent note before she heads to Madrid with Kveta Peschke for the YEC doubles competition. Schiavone's had quite a season, but it's hard to get past the fact that she STILL doesn't have a singles title.
FRESH FACES: Aleksandra Wozniak & Olga Poutchkova

...Canada's own Wozniak, 19, had a nice run in Quebec City, defeating Alina Jidkova and Ashley Harkleroad en route to the QF. Meanwhile, 19-year old Poutchkova continued to put her name atop the list of the next wave of Russians. Quebec City was her second final of the 4Q, as she outlasted Jelena Jankovic (who retired down 1-3 in the 3rd set) and Severine Bremond before losing to Bartoli. She's now at a career-best #40, and poised to be the breakout Hordette of '07. Of course, she'll have to avoid losing so many sets at love in finals, but she's tall, blonde and already has her own picture-filled website... so she's off to a good start.
DOWN: Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Stephanie Dubois
...ALG's tour hardcourt season finally came to a merciful end in Hasselt with another 1st Round loss, leaving one to wonder what portion of the year to rightly focus on in her sandwich of a season: its nice ingredients (a 25-10 middle that included her first career title), or the moldy bread (a 2-8 start, then a 4-13 finish, including losing eight of her final nine) that surrounded it? Canada's Dubois, courtesy of Clijsters' poor decision-making, was a highlight of the tour stop in Montreal more than two months ago. In Quebec City, she was trumped by the exploits of fellow Canadian Wozniak, who reached the quarters while Dubois lost in the 1st Round to qualifier Greta Arn.

1. Que F - Bartoli d. Poutchkova
...6-0/6-0. With the lack of an earth-shattering result this week, why not give Bartoli the honor for a rare double-bagel in a tour singles final. Interestingly, in Poutchkova's other 4Q final she lost to Martina Hingis in Kolkata by a 6-0/6-4 score.
2. Hass F - Clijsters d. Kanepi
...6-3/3-6/6-4. Might this be the last title Clijsters ever wins in Belgium? (Pssstt... if it is, then big whoop, I say.)
3. Hass 1st - Rezai d. Groenefeld
...6-1/6-3. Whew! Leave it to ALG to conclude her hardcourts crash by losing to a qualifier, even if it was a pretty good one like Rezai, who also upended Karolina Sprem in the 2nd Round.
4. Que 1st - Arn d. Dubois
...6-3/6-3. The 27-year old German, ranked #230, had to make it through qualifying to get to play this match, her first in a tour main draw since February '03 in Paris.
5. Que 2nd - Jankovic d. King
...4-6/6-1/6-4. King didn't win, but she's already proving that her Bangkok title wasn't a fluke.
HM- Que Doub.Final - Granville/Gullickson d. Craybas/Jidkova
...6-3/6-4. Gullickson's only other WTA doubles title cae in 2004 at this same Quebec City event, with Maria-Emilia Salerni. Her dad was once a pitcher for the Montreal Expos, so maybe she has some inherent advantage there.

5...Maria Sharapova
5...Justine Henin-Hardenne
5...Nadia Petrova
4...Amelie Mauresmo
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova
3...Shahar Peer

[most recent title]
51...Lindsay Davenport [2005]
42...Martina Hingis [2 in 2006]
33...KIM CLIJSTERS [3 in 2006]
33...Venus Williams [2005]
28...Justine Henin-Hardenne [5 in 2006]
26...Serena Williams [2005]
23...Amelie Mauresmo [4 in 2006]
18...Mary Pierce [2005]
15...Maria Sharapova [5 in 2006]
14...Jennifer Capriati [2003]
12...Anna Smashnova [1 in 2006]
10...Anastasia Myskina [2005]
10...Patty Schnyder [2005]

**MOST 2006 4Q FINALS**
3...Nadia Petrova (1-2)
2...Anna Chakvetadze (2-0)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-0)
2...Maria Sharapova (2-0)

FEB - Amelie Mauresmo (Antwerp)
JUN - Justine Henin-Hardenne (Roland Garros)
JUL - Anabel Medina-Garrigues (Palermo)*
JUL - Kim Clijsters (Stanford)
JUL - Anna Smashnova (Budapest)
*-three straight titles (2004-06)

...ah, one win away from ending this sometimes-nightmarish prediction year with five straight correct champions picks. Is it possible? The entire scenario rests in the hands of a certain blonde Russian.

2005 FINAL: Mauresmo d. Pierce
2005 DOUBLES: Raymond/Stosur d. Black/Stubbs



Sharapova d. Petrova
Kuznetsova d. Henin-Hardenne

Sharapova d. Kuznetsova


(1)Mauresmo (2-1)
(3)Henin-Hardenne (2-1)
(5)Petrova (0-3)
(8)Hingis (2-1)

(2)Sharapova (2-1)
(4)Kuznetsova (1-2)
(6)Clijsters (2-1)
(7)Dementieva (1-2)

Sharapova def. Hingis
Clijsters def. Henin-Hardenne

Sharapova def. Clijsters

DOUBLES CHAMPIONS: Raymond-Stosur (not very original but yeah)

All for now.


ALSO THIS WEEK: 2006 Backspin Awards & Intriguing Answers: Amelie/Justine


Blogger tennisfan said...

you're unnecessarily harsh on kim, perhaps because you NEVER liked her in the 1st place? if she had a lack of ambition, if she didnt care, she would have quit long ago, if not when the wrist surgery occured for the 2nd time, then when it happened again in montreal.

just perhaps, seeing someone with less of an ego, is better than seeing an emotionless robot who's life revolves solely around tennis, who stoops to all kinds of low to win. and that person? is her compatriot

Tue Nov 07, 09:31:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

To each his own... but it's the existence of both (and all the variations of personality that exist between the two types) that makes things so interesting and stirs passion... and that's only a good thing.

And I think a reasonable assessment of JHH wouldn't include her being emotion-less. Emotions go both ways, and she can't be accused of never showing how she feels on the court, whether a particular person necessarily enjoys the manner in which she sometimes does it or not. If JHH must play the villain, so be it... as I'll soon talk about in the Intriguing Answers column about her and Mauresmo.

If I truly disliked her, I might say that Clijsters wouldn't quit earlier than she plans because people would be mad at her for "abandoning" the sport with little notice, but instead would announce her departure nearly two years in advance so that she'll get "hugs" from everyone along the way, further cementing her "nice" reputation (which she courts in sometimes absurd ways, such as buying champagne for all the fans) as all her virtues are extolled at every stop. It makes everyone conveniently forget when she pulls herself off the Belgian Olympic team because of the team uniform not being made by her sponsor, accuses opponents of "disrespecting the game," etc. But I wouldn't say things like that. :)

Seriously, if I'm annoyed by something more than any other, it's that Clijsters' personality lets her get away with so much... while someone less extroverted/"nice" like JHH can get away with nothing, and is often accused of make-believe trangressions just out of habit and malice.

I may not be a big Kim fan, but I'm not incapable of showing her a little love... she just has to do something extraordinary, of course. :)

So far, I haven't had as many opportunities as should have been the case throughout her career.

Tue Nov 07, 10:40:00 AM EST  

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