She was playing on a heavily taped ankle after tearing ligaments in an accident while dancing at a wedding. She hadn’t had much time to practice. But Kim Clijsters showed up at the French Open anyway, and courageously pla. . .
I don’t think so. That is not the narrative here.
Clijsters lost to Arantxa Rus, ranked somewhere in the low millions, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 Thursday in the second round of the French Open. She had match point for a blowout win, and then just, poof, fell apart.
This wasn’t about her ankle, fitness or rust. Instead, it was an incredible combination of all things wrong with Kim 1.0 (choker) and Kim 2.0 (inexplicable disappearing act), on both sides of her maternity leave/retirement. It was as if she picked out all the bad parts of a great career.
Up 6-3, 5-2, match point, she doubted herself against someone named Arantxa Rus? Then, she lost 11 of the next 12 games?
Rus hit eight winners the entire match. Clijsters made 65 unforced errors, with 10 double-faults. Think about that: 65 unforced errors in 28 games. That’s 2.32 per game.
I’m not big on stats, but Rus won 101 points in the match. Clijsters handed her 65 of them.
Going into the tournament, it was guesswork as to how prepared Clijsters would be. Her loss opens up the draw perfectly for Maria Sharapova, my pick to win the tournament and rejuvenate women’s tennis.
For Clijsters, with a bad ankle it would be hard to get in position. With a bad ankle, it would be hard to spring up and into her serve. Right?
“If I wasn’t feeling like I was able to play tough matches physically, then I wouldn’t have made that decision to come here,’’ she said. “Physically everything was fine. It’s better to try than not to try. . .I definitely don’t regret it.’’
She had to come. She had won the past two majors and was halfway to the Kim Slam, winning four in a row. That’s just too great of an opportunity to pass up. On top of that – side bonus — it would have given her something Justine Henin had never accomplished. Kim 1.0 was always in Henin’s shadow, with both having come from Belgium and Henin being one of the greatest players of all time.
Clijsters, ranked No. 2, has won three majors during her comeback, and established herself historically, too.
Kim 1.0 used to be such a choker in big moments, despite all that talent. She seemed too nice or something, though she did have that U.S. Open title. But when she returned in summer of 2009, she started beating top players immediately. It was impressive, and motivational, for her to get into such a world-class level of fitness so shortly after having a baby. But also, it was embarrassing to the women’s tour for top players to lose to someone who had just come back.
Well, she has now established herself as a real champion, but I’m still not sure how much of that is her maturity and how much is this: It’s easier to hold her nerve now because of the lower level of players she’s facing.
Probably some of both. (And she did beat Serena Williams in the 2009 U.S. Open semis).
Whatever the reason, the great thing about Kim 2.0 has been her nerve, her relentlessness. There is not enough of that on the women’s tour.
But last year at the Australian Open, she lost 6-0, 6-1 in the third round to Nadia Petrova. Afterward, she said she didn’t know what had happened, or why. That has been the only thing wrong with Kim 2.0: Sometimes, though rarely, she just isn’t there.
I suspect that has something to do with the demands of being a mother who stays involved, and with the difficulty of staying focused at all times.
When she won the 2009 U.S. Open just weeks after coming back, imagine what kind of a wild celebration she must have had. This is true: Hours after the match, past midnight, I saw her with a small group in Times Square, just standing there looking at the lights. . .and pushing her baby in a stroller.
I wonder how committed she will be to the game anymore. In January, she said that 2012 would be her last full year on tour. If it weren’t for the London Olympics out there next summer, she might be gone by now.
A few weeks ago, when she tore the ankle ligament at a wedding, I wondered if we’d seen the last of her. She said she was dancing barefoot and stepped on the side of someone’s foot. Then, while she hobbled off the floor, someone else stepped on her toe.
I doubt she was fine physically Thursday, no matter what she said. That was just the toughness and sportsman in her, not willing to blame injuries and take credit from her opponent, who is actually ranked No. 114.
You can argue that Clijsters just isn’t fully back from that yet. But I think her focus on tennis is going to start splintering even more. How much more does she have to prove, and how much can she?
Also, is it worth the grind to do it?