NEW YORK (Reuters) - It was not part of Kim Clijsters’s grand plan, and that made her U.S. Open victory feel surreal to the Belgian.
“I can’t believe this happened,” the 26-year-old Clijsters told reporters following her grand slam triumph Sunday after taking more than two years off to start a family.
“It still seems so surreal that in my third tournament back I won my second grand slam.
“Because it wasn’t in the plan.
“I just wanted to come here and get a feel for it all over again, play a grand slam so starting the next year I didn’t have to go through all the new experiences over again.”
Instead, she experienced winning the Open all over again with her 7-5 6-3 triumph over 19-year-old Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
This time, her husband Brian and 18-month-old daughter Jada were by her side to frolic on Arthur Ashe Stadium court and play with the silver winner’s trophy.
Clijsters had not competed at Flushing Meadows since claiming her first grand slam here in 2005 — missing the 2006 event because of injury and the last two in retirement.
“The motivation was missing then,” she said about stepping away from the sport. “I came to an age where I really felt like, combined with the injuries, I wasn’t really 100 percent focused on my tennis anymore.
“As a woman, I came to a stage in my life, too, where I wanted to get married. We wanted to start a family, and I was glad. I feel very lucky that I got this chance to be back here now and that I made that decision, because it’s obviously been a good choice.
“Being a mother is obviously my first priority and being a wife ... I’m just very lucky that I’m able to combine both and that my family supports me in doing this.”
Clijsters said tennis was the furthest thing from her mind until she got an invitation to help unveil the new retractable roof over Center Court at Wimbledon.
“There were so many things going on with the wedding, and I was pregnant, and I was breastfeeding and everything. (I) didn’t get into the whole training routine until at the start of this year when I got the invitation to Wimbledon again.”
She said training did not go as smoothly as her amazing grand slam run.
“I had a good feeling a few weeks into my practice sessions. I started hitting the ball really well and hitting the ball really clean, but it was just the movement and reading the game and everything that was missing.
“So mentally I really had to just tell myself, ‘OK, Kim, you’re starting from zero here.’ This is not a little break that I had in between tournaments or anything.
“This is really kind of starting from zero and re-teaching my body again and knowing how to work in tennis conditions.
“No swear words like Serena yesterday, but a lot of swearing going on,” she said, referring to her semi-final win over 2008 winner Williams, who was docked a point at match point down for unleashing a stream of expletives at a line judge after a foot-fault call.
Clijsters said lessons learned about herself during her time away from tennis might have made her a better player.
“I think you get to know how to deal with different emotions when they come up.
“I’m more capable of adjusting on the court and adjusting my emotions a little bit better and reading my emotions. I think that’s something that’s very important out there, especially in big matches like today and like yesterday.”
Clijsters controlled her emotions until the end, when she cried tears of joy after falling to her knees on match point.
“It means the world, and I’m just so glad that I am able to share it with my husband ... and with our daughter, of course.
“This is something that in my wildest dreams I could never imagine happening.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar