Wimbledon ladies are preparing to take part in the crying game
WE HAVE been warned to expect tears at the start of this year’s ladies singles tournament at Wimbledon. Reigning champion Petra Kvitova yesterday contemplated the emotional fall-out as she curtsies in front of the Royal Box on Centre Court tomorrow, while Kim Clijsters was asked to imagine her reaction when she bows out at Wimbledon, for what will be the final time.
Clijsters has already taken delivery of the red skirt she will wear when representing Belgium at the Olympics later this summer in SWI9. But she is conscious that the end of her last Wimbledon singles campaign could come as quickly as this afternoon, when she is due to face the 18th-seeded Jelena Jankovic on Court No 1. Clijsters herself is ranked a lowly 47th for her penultimate Grand Slam, a consequence of having not played nearly enough this year.
She said she was “sure” the floodgates will open when her last Wimbledon campaign comes to an end, although it has not always proved a happy hunting ground. Clijsters has only reached the semi-final at best since making her debut here in 1999. She has overcome an abdominal muscle injury to return this year and has clearly made an extra effort to be present.
“I am excited to be here after missing out last year,” she said yesterday. After Wimbledon, the US Open is scheduled to be her final stop at the end of her grand slam adventures.
The 29-year-old will then exit stage left and into retirement for a second time. On this occasion, it looks certain to be a permanent step away from the game. She knows people will doubt her. Clijsters was also adamant she wouldn’t return in 2007, when she retired for the first time, citing injuries and loss of form.
It was actually a return to Wimbledon which re-ignited her passion and convinced her to make a return to the game. While participating in an exhibition tournament to test the new roof on Centre Court in 2009, she found she had caught the bug again. Remarkably, Clijsters then won the Australian Open within two years of her return to the game, becoming only the third mother to have won a Grand Slam title. Now, though, she senses it is time to go – and the lady is not for turning.
“Too old,” she said yesterday. “Too old to play the game that I want to play physically. I’ve put my body through enough strain in the last 15, 20 years.”
As one reporter began to formulate a question about the last time she retired, Clijsters quickly butted in. “No, this is it,” she said. “If that is where you’re going, this is it.”
When asked whether she had any doubts at all, she replied, Reverend Ian Paisley-style: “No, no, no.” She wants to extend her farewell for as long as she can, which means overcoming Jankovic today for starters. The popular Clijsters is likely to be roared on by an appreciative crowd. “This place has a big history for me personally,” she said. “From being here as a junior, from playing junior finals here, just everything, really. I love the whole atmosphere of staying at a house, and having family and friends here.
“And tennis-wise, I love the atmosphere that hangs around the court here, the history, the tradition. You don’t feel the vibe in any other Grand Slam. I think that’s what makes this so unique.”
While Clijsters prepares to say goodbye, someone else is looking forward to saying hello again. Kvitova was an unexpected champion last year, and the 22-year-old has been getting used to the sensation of being recognised wherever she has gone over the last year. Less happily, she is now a marked woman, with her opponents having been given extra incentive to defeat her.
“After Wimbledon, everything changed for me as a player,” she said yesterday. “In all the tournaments afterwards, the players wanted to beat me.”
Several managed to triumph over her as well, including Maria Sharapova, who twice defeated Kvitova at the semi-final stage of grand slam tournaments after losing to her in last year’s Wimbledon showpiece.
Indeed, Kvitova has endured a fairly rocky time of it since then, having crashed out of the US Open in the first round. She has not won a WTA title this year and was beaten last week in the first round at Eastbourne, the pre-Wimbledon warm-up event.
She will, however, be back in the spotlight tomorrow, when she returns to the scene of her triumph on Centre Court last year. Kvitova begins her defence against Uzbekistan’s Akgul Amanmuradova, and with her parents looking on from the Royal Box. She is determined not to let the occasion get to her, although it might be harder for her father, who was her first coach. “Yes, I’m sure he might cry, as it’s going to be emotional for them,” Kvitova said.
“I’m trying to not think about defending the title here, even though I’m sure it will come to my mind when I step on the court. I’m very honoured to be here as a champion. It’s something that lasts forever. I think the pressure is there, for sure, but I will try not to think about it when I’m on the court.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
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