Playing her final Wimbledon in what has been her least successful Grand Slam event, Kim Clijsters’ campaign at the 2012 Championships is bound to be accompanied by intense emotion, given a string of ankle, hip and abdominal injuries this year.
A smooth first-round win over women’s 20th seed Jelena Jankovic understandably brought out some sentiment, then joy, mingling with relief as Clijsters celebrated the 6-4, 6-2 progression with a broad smile.
“It’s a great feeling when you work so hard towards something and then it pays off,” said the Belgian, who also acknowledged the impact on her coach Carl Maes and physiotherapist Sam Versgleers. “It's nice to be able to share those kinds of emotions. The victory on its own felt special tonight.”
Jankovic, of course, had presented another potential challenge – not only does she share former world No. 1 honours with Clijsters, but in finishing runner-up in the lead-up event in Birmingham, the Serbian was showing some threatening form on grass.
“ I knew it was going to be a tough one, and I had to be ready for it,” Clijsters said.
That meant taking control early and as Clijsters broke serve to take a 3-0 lead in the first set, it was a strategy that quickly fell into place. With some potent ground-strokes and her typically competitive athleticism helping negate any edge Jankovic was able to muster, she took the set in 34 minutes.
While an early service break hinted at a more-competitive Jankovic in the second set, Clijsters broke straight back in the fourth game, then refused to concede an inch as she gained another break to take a 4-2 lead. A long and tense seventh gain saw the Serbian break again, but the determined Clijsters quickly regained control with a final service break to claim the 6-2, 6-4 victory.
Amid the 20 winners, two aces and overall 72 points won was some reassurance for Clijsters, who seems determined to stretch her stay at Wimbledon – which she describes as a “very special, special place for me” – for as long as possible, knowing her second retirement from tennis will be a permanent one.
“I think the first time, you know, when I was ready to retire, I was convinced. I was like, ‘Okay, that's it. Tennis is over, I think now this is definitely going to be it, so I take everything in. Whether I'm practising on one of the practice courts out here, I look around and I take it in,” she said.
While valuing the experience of the eight Wimbledon campaigns she’s contested in the past 14 years, Clijsters also acknowledges the poignancy of her final one.
“I’m a little bit older and I understand the emotions better, I think, than many years ago,” she said. “So I think in that way it's easier, but also probably a little bit more emotional.”