Kim Clijsters is the savviest, most experienced and strongest, both mentally and physically, of the dwindling stock of active elite women players.
Stage this year is all set for Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters bestrides the women's tennis planet like a Colossus.
She is the savviest, most experienced and strongest, both mentally and physically, of the dwindling stock of active elite women players, and if her domination of the Australian Open the previous two weeks is any indication she could win just about as often in 2011 as she would like.
Consider the landscape. Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 1, seems a caretaker holder of that ranking; indeed, Clijsters is now just 140 points behind the Dane despite playing only 14 events over the past 12 months, eight fewer than Wozniacki; Vera Zvonareva, the world No 3, is a tough-minded veteran so far unable to win a big event; Francesca Schiavone, the No 4, and Samantha Stosur, the No 5, can be called "overachievers" without insult.
Consider also Clijsters's peers. Justine Henin just retired, Venus (hamstring) and Serena Williams (foot) are injured, and Maria Sharapova has not regained her form since her own injuries. All of them are former world No 1s.
Clijsters, the big, hard-hitting Belgian, seems to be the last giant standing, and tennis insiders have noticed. "She's a four-slam wonder and counting," said Pam Shriver, the ESPN analyst. "She may become the best hard-court player of this era, and someone who is growing in stature with her mental toughness."
A few years ago, she might have crumbled after losing the first set of a slam final, as she did last weekend to Li Na of China. But the new, confident Clijsters, 27, who has won seven of her past eight events, shrugged off the adversity and took the next two sets, altering her style and befuddling Li by spraying the ball all over the court.
Nothing seems to stand in the way of Clijsters and a run of victories right through the calendar except Clijsters herself.
She said she plans to play something close to a full schedule for the last time, this season, but she also has said she wants to have a second child sometime soon. And she may be more prone to the sorts of stress-related injuries that have slowed so many of her contemporaries.
At present no one playing regularly brings the same level of big-match experience and sheer power to the court as does Clijsters.
"I've been on tour for a while and I've played big matches and not always won them, and although I've lost them sometimes they really do teach you a lot of things," she said after her 6-3, 6-3 win over Zvonareva in the semi-finals. "And that has definitely helped me now that I'm a little older."
Shriver believes the stage is set for more major victories for Clijsters. "She's the player most equipped to take advantage of Serena being out," Shriver said.
"Not many other players playing now feel comfortable stepping up at the biggest moments."