So thoughts are already turning to how Kim Clijsters will perform on the All England Club grass this summer, first at the Wimbledon Championships and then at the Olympics. That may seem premature, but with the Belgian to miss the entire clay-court season because of a hip injury, there is now an even greater emphasis on how she plays on the lawns.
And if Clijsters were to win the Venus Rosewater Dish or to stand on the podium with a medal of any colour it would be an emotional moment for whenever she visits south-west London she thinks of her late father Leo, a former professional footballer who passed away three years ago. Though Leo suffered from hay fever, and so was constantly sneezing as he strolled around Wimbledon Village and the All England Club, it was his favourite tournament, the one he loved to watch his daughter competing in. “What would it mean to win Wimbledon? That’s hard to describe as it’s been a fun and emotional experience for me, every time I’ve played at Wimbledon. That’s because my dad used to go there every time. It used to be his favourite tournament,” said Clijsters.
“We used to stay in a house together, and it was always a lot of fun. When I go there now, I feel that emotion very strongly. That’s why, if I won Wimbledon, it would be a very emotional experience for me. I would be thinking about my dad.”
Leo Clijsters used to enjoy the fact that his daughter played on grass, the same surface he used to run around on. “The connection with my dad is stronger at Wimbledon than at other tournaments, for sure. He never went to the Australian Open or the US Open, for example. He loved going to Wimbledon. He would say, ‘you’re playing on grass, that’s what I used to play on’,” said Kim, a former world number one.
“He also loved the whole history of the tournament and the sport. My dad was a traditional kind of guy. He appreciated the white clothing, and not letting everything go crazy, but keeping everything simple and traditional. It was so easy – we would stay in a house and walk to the courts. He loved that. He had some hay fever, and some bad allergies, so I remember that he was always sneezing.”
Family is of huge importance to Clijsters, who, as the mother of four-year-old Jada, is attempting to become the first mum to win Wimbledon since Evonne Goolagong went to the champions dinner in 1980. “I’ve seen Evonne around and spoken to her,” said Clijsters. “It’s been nice to get to know her. I’ve spoken to her about what it was like winning Wimbledon as a mother. She said, ‘yeah, you should do it – you go out and play and if you lose, you lose, and you’re home taking care of the kid’. That’s how I feel. Everyone asks me what my schedule is. Okay, there are days when it’s hard but you just do it.”