Kim Clijsters a Band-Aid on Broken Game

My column on AOL Fanhouse

Alec Baldwin is hot for her sweaty body. Todd Woodbridge is focusing on her breasts. Serena Williams‘ mom thinks she has a scary, Medusa eye.

Not only that, but Kim Clijsters also has won the past two major tennis championships. And when she officially reached No. 1 in the rankings Monday, she became the first Mommy to get there.

Clijsters has already done much more than I thought she could during her comeback, not so much on the court, but off, bringing attention to women’s tennis. Her play, and now her ranking, has brought credibility.

Did she just solve women’s tennis No. 1 problem? She is more like a Band-Aid, temporarily covering up the real issues of women’s tennis:

The game is moving backward. And Serena Williams, who had been holding up the sport during majors when most people are watching, suddenly is completely unreliable.

“I am proud that I was able to achieve it (No. 1) in my second career,” Clijsters wrote on Twitter. “Never expected it to happen.”

She has restored an order to the game, finally bumping out Caroline Wozniacki from the No. 1 ranking. No one thought Wozniacki, who hasn’t won a major, was deserving.

The problem is that while Clijsters is a little better than she was her first time around on tour, her rise to the top isn’t so much about catching up to all the champions as it is that the champions have all disappeared. And no one has come to replace them.

She has not caught up to the great players on top of the game because there aren’t any there.

Clijsters can hold the spot for a while, but even she is saying that by the end of next summer, she isn’t planning to be on tour full time anymore.

Then what? Well, the great thing about a Band-Aid is that it gives the body time to heal. Maybe women’s tennis can develop a champion in the next year and half? Mostly, that will be on Wozniacki, who reached No. 1 before her time. Before developing a weapon.

Maybe Maria Sharapova can rediscover the nerve in serve?

For now, it’s a relief for women’s tennis to have someone at No. 1 who actually seems to belong there. Clijsters, 27, replaces a group that can’t win a major, cries on court, forgets how to toss the ball for a serve, or, shows so little regard for the tour that she doesn’t bother trying or showing up unless it’s a major.

Now that Clijsters is back, she is relentless, “tough and indefatigable,” Baldwin told the New York Times in a story about famous people’s crushes. “And I like fit, sweaty women.”

Don’t think of Clijsters as a seat-warmer for Serena. Williams has spent the past few years trying only in the majors, and winning plenty of them. But now she has been out for seven months with a foot injury that comes with alternating explanations. She does not seem motivated anymore.

Not only that, but Clijsters and Williams have played one time since Clijsters’ comeback, at the 2009 U.S. Open. Clijsters broke down Williams mentally in that match, winning when Williams got a point penalty on match point for threatening a line judge with multiple f-bombs. 

Williams, once the only force on the tour, has become a void herself.

Ana Ivanovic was ready to be a champ, but then fell apart the minute she reached the mountaintop. Dinara Safina can’t even win one game off Clijsters. Jelena Jankovic is comfortable having dropped back to the second tier.

In her first time on tour, Clijsters was the undeserving No. 1, getting there the first two times without a major title. The real champs were the Williams sisters, Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and Justine Henin.

Clijsters was always in the shadow of Henin, as they are both from Belgium. On Monday, Henin had a press conference talking about her re-retirement. She said she is in mourning, that she had to go this time because of a ligament injury in her elbow, which makes it not by choice but by sentence.

But even before she got hurt, she had lost some of her game. Clijsters, meanwhile, has turned into a rock. Partly, though, that’s because the tour lacks the kind of players to put pressure on her.

The women’s game is skewing older, and the accepted reason is that tennis is getting more physical. Young bodies aren’t strong enough, the theory goes. Maybe there is something to that, but I think young players are mostly all taught to blast away on every shot, play the same style as everyone else. Tennis should have a personality.

So no one is there to take the baton from the older players. But some of them, such as Venus Williams, Francesca Schiavone and now Li Na, aren’t going to last long.

So tennis fans can celebrate Clijsters’ rise to the top today. But just know exactly what it is you’re celebrating.

Follow me on Twitter @gregcouch


About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

2 responses to “Kim Clijsters a Band-Aid on Broken Game

  • pov

    Oh please. Give it a rest will ya. Clijsters herself made #1 twice before she won a major. Was the WTA broken then?

    Yes the notion that having a major should be a prerequisite for being ranked #1 is common. And ridiculous. Expanding that notion into an article on the current state of the WTA is even more ridiculous.

    The WTA is fine. There’s great tennis happening. If you don’t think so – that’s your loss.

    • gregcouch

      Thanks for writing. Even when Clijsters was No. 1 before, few people thought she was really the best. Now, it’s obvious she is. Also, Li Na is not young, Schiavone. Date Krumm is 40, and able to beat top players. Yes, I think women’s tennis is going backward. Seems to me there were way more good players seven, eight years ago than there are now. I wish I agreed with you.

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