Clijsters content, but is she committed?
After spending time as the world's No. 1 ranked player this season, Kim Clijsters says she is content to be the No. 2 ranked player on the WTA Tour. Whit Sheppard explains.
PARIS -- Twenty-two-year-old Kim Clijsters is about the quietest No. 2 women's seed in recent French Open memory. Even AVIS makes more noise than the low-key, self-effacing Belgian.
Clijsters is most comfortable avoiding the spotlight that used to follow her around as the top-ranked women's player and the fiancée of one-time men's No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt. The pair split in November 2004 and since then Clijsters has been content to come in under the radar in terms of media focus and attention.
"I like it that way," said Clijsters. "Being the No. 2 seed or the No. 12, for me that's not a big deal. I don't like all the attention too much, you know."
Saturday at Roland Garros, Clijsters advanced to the fourth round with a routine 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 26 Annabel Medina Garrigues. She'll next face No. 15 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who dashed French hopes with a three-set win over Natalie Dechy. Hantuchova is winless in seven prior meetings with Clijsters.
ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez is a longtime Clijsters observer and had some thoughts about the tricky balancing act the Belgian faces trying to balance on-court achievement and satisfaction in her home life.
"She talks about getting married, retiring, having children," said Fernandez. "The other players feel like they have a chance against her because maybe her motivation isn't 100 percent like some of the other top players.
"I think she's got great perspective, but you think that maybe tennis isn't what she's [completely] focused on right now."
Among other distinctions, Clijsters is the only woman in the Top 10 to hold a winning record (57-29) against every other current Top-10 player. She's also the only player in the history of the WTA Tour to have risen from outside the Top 100 to No. 1 in the rankings in a 12-month span. After incurring a wrist injury that required surgery in 2004, she climbed from No. 134 in March 2005 to the top spot in late January.
Despite statements from her that clay is not her favorite surface to play on, though she grew up playing on it in Belgium, Clijsters is one of four women here with more than a passing chance of hoisting the winner's trophy a week from today.
Her record head-to-head against the other contenders: against top-seeded Amélie Mauresmo, she is 8-5; against No. 5 Justine Henin-Hardenne, she is 10-9; and against No. 12 Martina Hingis, she is 2-4.
Fernandez is among many who rate Clijsters' chances here higher than what the Belgian sees for herself.
"I think she has a very good chance of going far," Fernandez said. "To me, her game is so well-suited for the red clay courts. She's so quick, plays such great defense, and she can play offensively. She's been to the finals twice.
"The only negative is that she doesn't like playing on the surface. But if she plays her best tennis, she could definitely take the title."
Staying injury-free is a prerequisite for a deep run into the tournament's second week for Clijsters. "Clay is a very tough surface so I'm going to be very happy if I get through the clay-court season without any more injuries."
Four more wins in the next seven days on the terre battue in Paris, and she likely won't be able to avoid the limelight that many crave, but about which she appears to be quite blasé.
"People are always going to have their favorites and it all depends on how well you've done before at the Grand Slams," said Clijsters.
"They're going to name me as a favorite, but that doesn't change the mentality at all. I'm a tennis player, that's what I do, and everything else just adds on."
Whit Sheppard is a Paris-based sportswriter who is covering the French Open and Wimbledon for ESPN.com. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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