Monday, October 26, 2009
Updated: October 27, 9:18 AM ET
Does Clijsters deserve exemption into year-ender?
If Kim Clijsters played tennis on the men's tour, she'd be guaranteed a spot in the season-ending championships as the reigning U.S. Open champion.
On the ATP Tour, up to two players who win a Grand Slam tournament, but aren't among the top eight in the points race during that year, will be given automatic admittance to the season-ender.
But the WTA Tour has different rules. The women don't have this Grand Slam champions special-exception clause, but wisdom suggests they should.
The Sony Ericsson Championships field is composed of the top eight 2009 point winners: Dinara Safina, Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Victoria Azarenka Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic.
If a Grand Slam champion rule existed for the WTA Tour year-end event, Jankovic, who first earned her year-end championships berth last week, would've been the sacrificial lamb to make room for Clijsters. It's questionable whether Jankovic's hard work in 2009 compares in value to Clijsters' sensational return to the tour.
After a little more than a two-year absence from tennis to get married and give birth to daughter Jada, Clijsters was eager to rekindle her career. Remarkably, in only her third tournament back, Clijsters became the first wild-card recipient, not to mention first mother since Evonne Goolagong in 1980, to win a Grand Slam title. Clijsters beat Venus and Serena Williams en route to winning the U.S. Open title, her second career Grand Slam trophy (the 2005 U.S. Open was her first).
As usual, Jankovic played one of the more arduous schedules of the season, and if merit was judged by quantity, she'd be atop the charts. She won the Cincinnati and Marbella titles and also reached the final in Tokyo, the semifinal at the Paris Indoors and five other quarterfinals. A U.S. Open finalist in 2008, Jankovic has struggled in the high-octane pressure of Grand Slams. In 2009, Jankovic presented poorly at the majors (second round at the U.S. Open, third round at Wimbledon and fourth round at the Australian and French opens).
Not surprisingly, the always impeccably polite and copacetic Clijsters took the high road when asked about whether she deserved to be in Doha.
"It's an interesting idea having all the Slam winners at the Championships, but in this case, that would mean denying the eighth player, who played all year, her place," said Clijsters, who e-mailed her thoughts to ESPN.com.
"Before I won New York I had asked for a wild card to play Bali [Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions], but after my surprise win there, I re-evaluated my schedule with my team. We decided the best preparation for Australia was seven weeks of intensive training after Luxembourg as I can still improve physically. So that meant turning down the wild card in Bali, and out of respect for them, I wouldn't have played in Doha, either. Hopefully if I play well in 2010, I'll rightfully earn my place along with the other girls."
That might be the way Clijsters sees it. But an outsider can certainly carve out a sound argument for the inclusion of Clijsters in this week's Sony Ericsson Championships.