Kim Clijsters rejoined the world’s Top 10 this week for the first time in nearly three years, following her impressive victory at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.
Clijsters eased through the opening rounds of the Premier event, before claiming a 62 61 win over Venus Williams in the final. The only real resistance to her title challenge came in a classic all-Belgian semifinal against Justine Henin, in which she battled to victory in a third set tiebreak.
Clijsters will soon turn her attention to the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Play-offs as Belgium hosts Estonia, with a place in next year’s top tier at stake. Despite the home team being red-hot favourite to progress, the two-time US Open champion is taking nothing for granted.
“Fed Cup is probably the most unpredictable sporting event, so much can happen,” said Clijsters, whose last appearance for Belgium was against USA in 2006.
“Estonia don’t have the big names, but you never know, because of the whole atmosphere players who are ranked a lot lower can really get fired up and produce some good tennis. You have to be very cautious and that’s where the team effort comes in.”
Clijsters, ranked No. 5 at the time, retired from tennis in 2007, but staged a remarkable comeback to the game last summer, culminating in a title-winning run at the US Open.
The 26-year-old, who now juggles the rigours of the tour with life as a mother, still regards Fed Cup as one of her top priorities, with the team aspect of the competition playing a vital role.
“I love playing Fed Cup,” said Clijsters. “Sitting on the sideline, you just want to support your team, support the player who is playing. That’s something that I enjoy. It brings a lot of emotions. It’s fun.
“If you can play at home it makes it even more special, but even if you don’t play at home and you have the crowd against you, it just means so much more to have those people on the bench supporting you. I think that’s something I’ve always liked.
Young team taste glory
Clijsters made her Fed Cup debut in 2000, and has since compiled a 21-4 win-loss record. In 2001, she was a key player in the Belgian team that won the nation’s only title, beating Russia 2-1 in the Final, an occasion she remembers with great fondness.
“My biggest memory, I think, is the one when we won it,” said Clijsters. “We had a very young team, Justine and myself were young at the time, but also we had the older generation that we were playing with, Els Callens and Laurence Courtois.
“Fed Cup has always been a very learnful experience for me and I think especially when I was younger I admired all those other Belgian players that were in the team, and its just fun to have been a part of it when I was that young.”
Decisions for Appelmans
One of those players was Sabine Appelmans, who holds the Belgian records for the most number of wins and appearances. The 37-year-old now sits in the captain’s chair, and has the respect of the team’s top player.
“Obviously, it’s completely different having the coach there,” said Clijsters, comparing Fed Cup to playing as an individual during the rest of the year.
“In our situation we have Sabine, who is someone I have always admired. When I was younger I wanted to play with her rackets and [wear her] outfits. So, to see her on the court next to me when I’m playing, when she’s sitting on the bench, it’s fun and a nice experience. I look forward to it.”
Appelmans may have some big decisions to make when it comes to selectting her team's singles line-up, with Clijsters, Henin and Yanina Wickmayer all in fine form. If all three players are available, it would be what many people might describe as a nice problem to have.