WIMBLEDON, England – As a reporter began to formulate a question about the first time Kim Clijsters retired, only to return to tennis, the four-time major champion cut off the query with a smile and a quick response.
"No, this is it," she said Sunday. "If that's where you're going, this is it."
No doubt at all?
"No, no, no," Clijsters repeated.
The Belgian, who turned 29 on June 8, is back at Wimbledon for only the second time in the past six years — and, yes, the absolutely, positively last time. Clijsters already has announced that she'll be leaving the sport for good after the U.S. Open in September.
"Too old. Too old to play the game that I want to play physically. I've put my body through enough strain and everything. The whole lifestyle, that's what I'm dealing with now, the lifestyle I've had for the last 15, 20 years. It's been great. I wouldn't change it for a thing," explained Clijsters, one of only three mothers to have won a Grand Slam title. "But I'm not going to be the type of player that's going to change the way I play or the way that I move."
The daughter of a professional soccer player, Clijsters has derived much of her success on a court from pure athleticism that helped her produce punishing groundstrokes and stretching-into-the-splits court coverage.
Those abilities allowed her to win the U.S. Open in 2005, 2009 and 2010, and the Australian Open in 2011.
"I naturally have that strong movement, powerful shots, and that's been able to have me on top of women's tennis and be, you know, I think on the highest part of women's tennis, with Venus (Williams), Serena (Williams), Justine (Henin), to be part of that," Clijsters said. "So physically, I need to be thankful for that, but, yeah, it's normal that that's not going to last 20 years."
Clijsters pulled out of the semifinals at a grass-court warmup tournament in the Netherlands on Friday because of what she called a flaring up of an abdominal muscle tear from last season.
As it is, that was her first action in nearly three months, because of hip and ankle problems. She's 13-3 in 2012; only five women in the 128-player Wimbledon draw have played fewer matches on tour this season. That's a big reason Clijsters is ranked 47th and wasn't seeded for the penultimate Grand Slam tournament of her career.
Clijsters is scheduled to face 18th-seeded Jelena Jankovic on Court 1 at the All England Club in the first round Monday. It's a matchup between two women who have been ranked No. 1 and have met eight times previously, with Clijsters holding a 7-1 edge.
The pounding Clijsters' body takes when she plays has led to a variety of injuries over the years, including a bad wrist that preceded her original, er, sabbatical. She first stepped away from the tour in May 2007, got married later that year, and gave birth to daughter Jada in February 2008.
She wound up back on tour in August 2009, a return that was prompted, at least in part, by being asked to participate a few months earlier in exhibition matches under the then-new roof on Wimbledon's Centre Court. Not only unseeded, but even unranked because she'd only played in two previous tournaments during her comeback, Clijsters won the 2009 U.S. Open.
Two more Grand Slam titles would follow, but Wimbledon is the only major tournament where she's never so much as reached the final.
That doesn't mean she can't appreciate the place.
"I love the atmosphere that hangs around the courts here — the history, the tradition," Clijsters said. "You don't feel that vibe in any other Grand Slam. I think that's what makes this so unique."
She's not sure what sort of emotion she'll feel when her Wimbledon career is all said and done, something that could happen as soon as Monday.
And she hasn't decided exactly what she plans to do when her playing days are over, less than three months from now.
What Clijsters does know for sure is that she and her husband — Brian Lynch, an American who used to play professional basketball in Belgium — want to have more children.
"For that, I'm still young," Clijsters said. "Maybe not for tennis — but for that, I'm still young."
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