Four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters makes her return to tennis on Wednesday in Key Biscayne. She has missed the last two months while recovering from an ankle injury. Busted Racquet caught up with her this weekend to talk about her comeback, Olympic plans and the challenges that face the No. 1 player in the sport.
Busted Racquet: How are you feeling?
Kim Clijsters: My rehab since the Australian is going well. I've had some tests done on my ankle and I feel like I'm ready to go. I'm still going to be playing with my ankle taped probably until the end of the season as a precuation, but I've been in the States for a good week now. First we were in New Jersey visiting my family-in-laws and we came to Miami a couple of days ago. The weather is nice and I've been able to have some good practice days.
Busted Racquet: You've said you're working with your sights set on tournaments in July. Is it hard to prepare for tournaments now when you have a long-term goal?
Kim Clijsters: With a tough summer ahead, I was going to change up the intensity of the practice and preparations. It was going to be a bigger buildup for the summer. There are a few things that have changed a little bit and will change as compared to last year.
Busted Racquet: Do you have your year planned out or are you going to see how your ankle holds up?
Kim Clijsters: My calendar is set and I'm going to finish the whole season, whether it's playing at the US Open or if I make it back to the top 10 or top 8 and being a part of the championships, we'll see where it ends. I'm going to play it by ear and then I'll see how I feel and how I'm doing and how my body feels. For now, everything is set for the Olympics and then we'll see afterwards.
Busted Racquet: Ever since you've come back to the sport, there's been speculation about when you'll leave. Now that the Olympics is almost here, how strange is it that the build-up is nearing an end? And does it ever get strange having to talk about your retirement and family planning with the media?
Kim Clijsters: It doesn't really feel strange because I've always been very open and honest in press conferences or talking to the people. I speak with my heart. There have been moments where I've felt like it's hard -- talking about the Olympics -- but in the past year, I've been able to have a good balance with my home life and being an athlete and a mom and trying to be the best that I can be. The rhythm that we have now is good and I'm happy with where I'm at.
Busted Racquet: How much do you pay attention to the sport when you're not playing?
Kim Clijsters: I try to follow it, mainly online. When I'm home I have no time to watch TV. Frankly, I work out and the rest of the day is spending time with my family. I clean up the house or prepare for the next day. I don't have enough time to watch full matches, but I try to keep up.
Busted Racquet: Since you've been out, there's a new No. 1 in women's tennis. Victoria Azarenka has actually only dropped one set since you took one off of her in the Australian Open semifinals. How do the pressures of being No. 1 affect players? We've seen many a woman slip in their game in recent years after getting to the top.
Kim Clijsters: You can be ready to become No. 1 tennis wise, but you also have to be ready mentally and emotionally and physically as well. When you become No. 1 in the first year as a young girl, it's hard, but it's a lot harder to stay on top. Victoria has a lot of experience and has played big matches and beat big players before. In her case, it was just a matter of mentally keeping cool. It's not like she played a different game. She's become more consistent and stronger. When she walks on court, she has a confidence that she shows and her opponents see it. It comes with being undefeated and winning your first Grand Slam. It's great to see that those sorts of things happen to people. When I became No. 1 at a young age, I hadn't won a Grand Slam yet, so I had to deal with the questions that Caroline Wozniacki got. "Is she worthy?" It's not easy, it's a confidence thing. You learn more about how you perform in big matches and big points.
Busted Racquet: We always ask, what's your racquet preference: "c" or "q?"
Kim Clijsters: I don't know if it's the right way, but I spell it r-a-c-k-e-t.
Busted Racquet: Oh, Kim! And we were doing so well too! It's slightly disappointing. Thanks for talking with us today.
Kim Clijsters: (Laughs) Take care.