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Monday, February 26, 2007
What to think of Clijsters' career


It's been an exciting start to the tennis season. Roger Federer just broke Jimmy Connors' record of 160 consecutive weeks at No. 1. Serena Williams staged an amazing comeback in Australia. Her sister Venus had a stunning return, too, albeit on the smaller stage of Memphis last week. Andy Roddick is strutting around like a latter day Jimmy Connors.

Then there's Kim Clijsters.

In case you didn't get the memo, Clijsters is competing in her final season. She says her body can't hold up to the grind of the tour. She also "yearns" to get married to her fiancÚ, Brian Lynch. Clearly, this is a woman in a rush to leave her career behind.

What kind of career has it been? Well, Clijsters will never go down in the books as an all-time champion. At best, you could call her a one-Slam wonder, thanks to her 2005 U.S. Open win. In a less charitable light, she'll be remembered as one of the Open era's biggest underachievers. The Belgian always had the high-octane ground strokes, but she never seemed to have the fire inside unlike, say, her first fiancÚ, Lleyton Hewitt.

Nothing Clijsters does this season will change that. She has only committed to playing through July, and during these next five months she's scheduled to compete in just three tournaments: Miami, Eastbourne, and Wimbledon. Indian Wells? Nope. The clay-court events leading into the French? Clijsters isn't even playing Roland Garros, saying it's too grueling on her body.

Usually, it's the other way around: Players rest up during the insignificant tournaments to be fresh for the Grand Slams. And besides, while clay-court matches are typically longer, they're also easier on the body.

Maybe she'll change her mind. Or, perhaps, Clijsters wants to make sure her footwork is sharp for that first dance at her wedding, which she has scheduled for right after Wimbledon. I'm sorry, but why plan your nuptials smack in the middle of your last tennis season?

Look, we can't expect all of the top players to approach their craft with the same passion and vigor of Federer, Roddick or Maria Sharapova, to name just three. I suppose Clijsters' down-to-earth demeanor, vanilla as it is, endears her to some. But you'd think she'd want to leave it all on the court in her remaining weeks on tour, so she wouldn't have any regrets when she's sitting around the house in domestic bliss.

It's hard to wrap your mind around the fact that Clijsters is hanging up her racket when she should be at the peak of her powers. She's just 23, after all. But she's content with her decision. There's no turning back. After losing to Amelie Mauresmo in Antwerp, Clijsters gave a maudlin speech. The farewell tour was officially under way.

Later, in her online diary, Clijsters wrote that the love she felt from the home crowd was her crowning achievement. "If people are going to ask me about my greatest moment in tennis, this will be my number one for ever."

Kind of says it all, doesn't it?