x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Kim Clijsters' incredible service to tennis

Chuck Culpepper does not rule out a Wimbledon women's singles title win for the retiring and very popular Belgian.

Playing at the Wimbledon this year has been an emotional experience for the retiring Kim Clijsters who could yet qualify for her first women's singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Paul Gilham / Getty Images
Playing at the Wimbledon this year has been an emotional experience for the retiring Kim Clijsters who could yet qualify for her first women's singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Paul Gilham / Getty Images

Map it out: if Kim Clijsters can get past the No 12 seed Vera Zvonareva in the third round at Wimbledon, she might meet the No 8 seed Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.

If she can surpass Kerber or the No 28 seed Christina McHale in the fourth round, she could meet the No 1 seed Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals.

And if she can get past Shar- … OK, let's not get all delirious here.

Players cannot afford this kind of bracket-gazing, of course, with the ball-mashers of the world ever more populous and able to run you straight to Heathrow if you are insufficiently prepared. But as players cannot risk this speculation, let's not forget a crucial fact: we are not players, save for recreationally, in some cases.

Upon a women's tour forever hunting for embraceable storylines through an inchoate era, a quarter-final between Sharapova and Clijsters would funnel some attention off the mighty men's era, here at Sharapova's latest peak and Clijsters's final Wimbledon.

It would qualify as an event. It would match a player who has rediscovered tiptop form against a player who once rediscovered tiptop form.

It would sustain the Wimbledon legacy of a widely liked and hugely likable athlete, the 29-year-old four-time grand slam champion from Belgium.

Already, Clijsters has combed through the early stages with a fine mastery. She has avoided the exit that has befallen Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur, Li Na and Venus Williams, and even the hiccups that have visited Sharapova and the defending champion Petra Kvitova.

She has arrived, of course, unseeded. She has arrived after injury kept her from the 2011 Wimbledon, the 2011 US Open and the 2012 French Open, which lends impressiveness to her semi-final showing at the 2012 Australian Open.

She ranks No 47, but everybody knows she would have to be one of the better No 47s in the entire history of No 47s.

So as a shining member of the unseeded peasantry, she drew the No 21-ranked Jelena Jankovic in the first round, but then breezed through that 6-2, 6-4. She eased past Andrea Hlavackova, No 90, in the second round.

She might not get past Zvonareva, but the wish that she might is her fault, for she has enticed us herself.

She has experience with all this.

At the 2009 US Open, she arrived with no ranking and no seeding and no participation in any of the previous 10 grand slams after her first retirement, then memorably won the thing.

What's more, she arrived after having given birth.

I have never given birth, but it has always looked difficult to me, and I have always considered Evonne Goolagong's Wimbledon title in 1980 as a mother one of the great feats in all of sport, what with the fitness required so exacting.

So Clijsters probably qualifies as a freak, a compliment in sports jargon.

She's the person who won the 2009 US Open and said, "It wasn't in the plan, kind of." She said she just wanted to show up and get the feel of things ahead of 2010.

She said: "It's a great feeling to have, but it's confusing in a lot of ways, as well."

She said that if you had called her 18 months prior and told her she would be doing this again, "I would have definitely hung up the phone on you."

And: "Sorry."

She did this to us with her comeback and her kindness, lending a good Wimbledon run both plausibility and appeal.

Now she plays Wimbledon, the grand slam of her leanest accomplishments given three Australian Open finals and one title, her two French finals including a 12-10 third set with Jennifer Capriati in 2001 and her three US Open titles.

At Wimbledon she has yet to grace (and grace it would be) a final, edging within one set before falling to Venus Williams in a 2003 semi-final, and falling in straight, taut sets to Justine Henin in a 2006 semi-final.

But then, you never know in the women's field; you might tough your way to a final and find some debutante finalist (such as Sara Errani at the French).

"I think it's easier because I'm a little bit older and I understand the emotions better, I think, than many years ago," she said in the Wimbledon media conference after defeating Jankovic.

With retirement slated for after the US Open, she said, "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 take it in. So it's more emotional, definitely, yeah."

Yeah, this goodbye could well get very much more emotional, the enchantment rising with each round. It's a fine vision and, until further notice from Zvonareva, we're allowed it.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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