Clijsters Bids Farewell

by Paula Vergara
Originally Published: On the Baseline

Flushing Meadows, NY—On Wednesday, No. 23 seed Kim Clijsters, the sentimental favorite to win the U.S. Open, was defeated by 18-year-old Brit, Laura Robson 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) in a second round nail biter, ending an illustrious career.

Out of the gate, three-time U.S. Open champ Kim Clijsters was striking the ball well, and took a quick, 4-1 lead in the first set. Robson, a 5’10” lefty, began showing signs of improvement at 2-4, at 15-30 on Clijsters' serve. But Clijsters was dominating, and won the next 3 points to go up 5-2. With the first set win clearly within reach, Clijsters somehow lost momentum and simply wasn’t able to capitalize on her lead. Robson fought off three set points, and won the first set tiebreak.

Clijsters, who typically hugs the baseline during rallies, was consistently playing 4-5 feet behind the baseline, a sign that she wasn’t in control of the match. Clijsters also struggled with her returns, especially on Robson’s second serve. Robson’s aggressive, attacking-style of game earned her two match points at 6-5, but Clijsters managed to saved them both, setting up a second set tiebreak. It was a tight tiebreak, with Clijsters down 3-4, but she managed to even the score at 5-5. Robson took the lead at 6-5, and with her third match point, she won the tiebreak, and the match, ending Clijsters’ 15-year career.

“My biggest dreams came true here [at the U.S. Open] in 2005," said Clijsters. "This feels like the perfect place to retire. I just wish it wasn’t today.”

Prior to this match, Clijsters had never lost to a player ranked outside the Top 10 at U.S. Open, and hadn’t lost in the second round since 2000, so the idea of competing against the No. 89 ranked player in the world didn’t seem so challenging. It was evident that Clijsters wasn’t playing her best against Robson, but still had that competitive fire, even though she knew her tennis career was coming to a close.

Despite her second round loss at this year’s U.S. Open, Clijsters has had a somewhat rare opportunity to end her career on her own terms. The 29-year-old has taken her time –giving herself, and her fans an opportunity to savor those last few tournaments, and, to say goodbye.

At the beginning of Clijsters’ second career (2009), she was admittedly coming off of a personal roller coaster. She had recently become a new mother, and her father had just passed away. Tennis became a form of therapy for her. “Tennis helped me to get rid of emotions and have focus. I was able to let out a lot of energy after my Dad passed away,” said Clijsters. “It was the perfect release for me, to think on court about life and about what happens, and to smack the ball as hard as you can to get the frustration out.”

After battling a series of injuries this past year, the scale started to tip in the other direction for Clijsters. As a mother of a 4 year old, she could no longer invest as much emotion into tennis as she once had. The constant grind of the being on the road was beginning to weigh on her. Simply put, home life became more difficult to put aside. This time around, her retirement meant she was closing the tennis door for good.

Clijsters' legacy will be marked by her athleticism (trademark splits), superior shot making, and grace under pressure. She is just one of six women to have been ranked world No. 1 in singles and doubles simultaneously (others:  Martina Navratilova, Martina Hingis, Serena Williams, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, and Lindsay Davenport). She also became the first mother to hold the No. 1 ranking since the ranking system first started in 1975.

Having accomplished everything she set out to accomplish in tennis, Clijsters can leave the sport with a good feeling.

“It’s been an incredible journey, and a lot of incredible dreams for me have come true,” says Clijsters.

Without question, Kim Clijsters still loves tennis. She always will. She will always have an emotional investment in the game, but the pressure is behind her. She will be playing doubles and mixed doubles at the U.S. Open, but now she can hit the ball for fun.

2012 U.S. Open: Assessing the Field

It's that time of year again. There is a slight hint of fall in the air, but summer is holding on for one last blast of heat. Last year at this time, New York City was not the place to be for an outdoor tennis event. The city was contending with an earthquake, hurricane, and seemingly endless amounts of rain. Lower Manhattan was evacuated. Even Arthur Ashe Kids Day was canceled.

That was then. This is now.

The 2012 U.S. Open is set to begin on Monday, along with the usual excitement that precedes the start of the final Grand Slam of the season. Conversations of contenders, dark horses, injuries, and up-and-comers who may steal the show are front and center.

The Big 4 (er, 3)

Roger Federer: The stars seem to be aligned for him to reach #18. It's hard to bet against a guy who won Wimbledon seven times and is back to the No. 1 position, and...doesn't have to face his greatest rival, Rafa. Federer is vying for his 6th U.S. Open title, and is currently tied with Jimmy Connors and Sampras for the Open Era record of five U.S. Open titles. 

Andy Murray: After winning Gold at the Olympics, he has finally silenced his critics, but hasn't quite gotten the monkey off his back yet. "I think he has the most to lose and the most to gain at this point," says John McEnroe about Andy Murray, heading into the U.S. Open. Confidence may be the deciding factor.

Novak Djokovic: The world No. 2 recently defended his title in Toronto, but lost to Roger Federer in the final in Cincinnati. He has been struggling a bit with his game this season (slight burnout?), but as the reigning U.S. Open champion, he will be looking to make his fourth appearance in the U.S. Open men's final. 

Nipping at Their Heels: Del Potro, Tsonga, Ferrer, Raonic


Sam Stosur (Slammin’ Sam): The defending U.S. Open champ is coming into the U.S. Open in the same situation as 2011, without having won a single title leading up to the U.S. Open. In fact, Stosur and Wozniacki at the only two players in the top 10 yet to win a title this season. Stosur was a runner-up in Doha (l. to Azarenka) and reached the last four at Roland Garros and Charleston. Can she defend her U.S. Open title? Hard courts are her best surface, but confidence will play a big role.

Li Na: Here's a top 10 player who usually rises to the occasion on the big stages. She began working with Carlos Rodriguez (former coach of Henin) after Wimbledon this year. She won her first tournament of the season in Cincinnati vs. Kerber. She will likely make it through to week two, if Carlos has anything to say (or hand gesture) about it.

Kim Clijsters: The queen of the hard courts will be saying farewell to tennis after the U.S. Open. She has a legitimate shot at winning her 4th U.S. Open crown (2005, 2009, and 2010 winner), but has been sidelined with injuries and off-court commitments for most of this year. The momentum going into her last Grand Slam may carry her through, if she can stay healthy. She'll be playing singles, doubles, and mixed doubles.

Serena Williams: Is No. 15 in the cards? Six-time U.S. Open champ Chris Evert isn't so convinced. Evert says Serena may have trouble keeping up a high level of tennis for over a two‑week period -- consistently. "Serena will have to work harder at the US Open than she did at Wimbledon," says Evert. "She had a lot of free points at Wimbledon and the Olympics because it was on grass and shots didn't come back, and she dictated every point. This is going to be a different story. She's going to have to run down a lot more balls and get a lot more balls back, be more consistent and probably be even in better shape." 

Maria Sharapova: She came off the Olympics with a stomach bug and decided to lay low until the U.S. Open. If healthy, she could find herself in the final, opposite Serena Williams. 

Nipping at Their Heels: Azarenka, Aggie Radwanska 

Left Field

Angelique Kerber. This lefty came out of nowhere to make it to the U.S. Open semifinals in 2011, and since then, has sky rocked to No. 6 in the world. She defeated Venus Williams at the Olympics, and defeated Serena Williams in the QF in Cincinnati. Her offensive game needs to improve if she wants to be a Grand Slam contender.

Petra Kvitova: She's coming off a big win in New Haven, but has her work cut out for her in New York. Despite advancing to the QF stage or better at all three Grand Slams so far this year, The 2011 Wimbledon champ has never reached the QF at the U.S. Open. And with less than 48 hours of rest before the start of the U.S. Open, fatigue may be a factor for this six-foot lefty. Her serve and a bit more consistency will carry her through.

Side Notes

Melanie Oudin’s QF run at the U.S. Open in 2009 remains her best Grand Slam singles result to date. However, she teamed up with fellow American, Jack Sock to win the 2011 U.S. Open mixed doubles title. Can they pull off a repeat?

As it stands now, the men's final will be played on Sunday, September 9. Don't count on the weather gods to cooperate with that schedule.

Sharapova has come up with a new line of candy, called Sugarpova. Apparently Maria has a sweet tooth. Her favorite flavor? "Quirky" (rainbow liquorice with a marshmallow middle). Yep, that sounds like Maria.

American Brian Baker is playing in the main draw of the U.S. Open for the first time since 2005. His road to success has been a bumpy one. Cheer him on, whether he's playing on court 12 or Arthur Ashe Stadium.

View the U.S. Open TV Schedule HERE (ESPN, Tennis Channel, CBS)

Serena, Bryan Brothers Good as Gold

August 4, 2012
by Paula Vergara

It was a bit of a blustery day on Centre Court at Wimbledon, but both Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams appeared ready to battle it out for the gold. Serena was the heavy favorite going into the match, with an 8-2 H2H lead over Sharapova. The two have played each other on two separate occasions on grass -- both at Wimbledon. Sharapova defeated Serena in 2004 to win the Wimbledon title. Then in 2010, Serena defeated Sharapova in the round of 16.

En route to the gold medal match, Serena blew past Jelena Jankovic, Urszula Radwanska, Vera Zvonareva, and Caroline Wozniacki, while Sharpova faced Shahar Peer, Laura Robson, Sabine Lisicki (who beat her at Wimbledon just a few weeks ago), Kim Clijsters, and Maria Kirilenko.

Serena's vice grip in these Olympic Games didn't let up at all in the gold medal match, scoring three aces in the first game vs. Sharapova. She won the first two games 40-0, which set the tone for a Serena-style smackdown. Sharapova was trailing 5-0 in the 1st set, and had a 40-0 lead on her serve. She tried desperately to hold her serve to get on the scoreboard, but Serena fought back to win the game. In just 30 minutes, Serena had crushed Sharapova with a bagel set, 6-0.

Sharapova had as short-lived resurgence in the 2nd set, with better rallies and quality shot-making, which earned her one game (at 3-1). Sharapova's game quickly began to unravel again, and simply couldn't get back into the match. In just over one hour, Serena won the match 6-0, 6-1, which earned Serena her first Olympic gold medal in singles, as well as a Career Golden Slam.

Not only did Serena Williams win Olympic gold, the 30-year-old has also taken over the top spot for the highest number of career titles for any active player: 44. This record was previously held by her sister, Venus, with 43.

Serena and Venus Williams will face the Czech team of Hlavackova and Kradecka in the Olympic doubles gold medal match on Sunday.

Click here for the Sunday Olympic tennis schedule.

Double Gold for the Bryan Brothers

American doubles duo Bob and Mike Bryan also won gold in men's doubles (as well as a Career Golden Slam), after defeating the French team, Michaël Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 7-6(2). This is the first Olympic gold medal for the 34-year-old twin brothers (they won bronze in 2008). They already have their sights set on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Top 25 Takeaways from the London Olympics

August 3, 2012
by Paula Vergara
We are officially into the medal rounds in tennis at the Olympic Games, which means the stakes just got a bit higher. Before we settle in to watch some of the best "popcorn matches" of the year, let's take a look back at a week of highlights and lowlights.

  1. No. 1 disappointment: The Olympic opening ceremony. With the exception of the flag bearers, most tennis players were absent from the ceremony due to the early match start times that were taking place the following morning. For some players, the sacrifice has paid off, but not for all.

  1. First Lady, Michelle Obama was using her star power this week at the Olympic Games to bring more attention to tennis. American tennis, that is. We know she's a tennis fan, and we know her husband is running for re-election for POTUS. The woman clearly knows how the promotion machine works.

  1. Juan Martin del Potro was flying way under-the-radar in these Olympic Games. That is, until he played against Roger Federer. 'Nuf said.

  1. No one can argue that Rafael Nadal’s absence from the Olympic Games is not only bad for his career, but bad for tennis. One can hope that his knees will hold out for the hard court season, but as we all know, the knees can take a much harder beating on hard courts than on grass.

  1. Altering the tennis record books is what Roger Federer has always done best. Despite having a shaky 1st round match vs. Falla, the 7-time Wimby champ has been on cruise control ever since. Federer is en route to a possible Career Golden Slam, and, at 30 (almost 31), he is showing no signs of slowing down.

  1. Serena Williams continues to be untouchable in both singles and doubles, proving once again, that she can be just as competitive at 30 as she was at 20, with or without her golden scrunchie. The one thing she puts ahead of tennis? Family. She says that if she had to choose, she’d rather have an Olympic gold medal in doubles with her sister, Venus, than a gold medal in singles. Awww.

  1. If you could sum up Andy Murray’s career in a bumper sticker, what would it say? “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” All of Great Britain (and Ivan Lendl) are hoping that "Muzzard" reaches his destination soon, with a gold medal around his neck.

  1. American hopeful Donald Young is having to climb the tennis ladder the slow, hard way. He's lost in the 1st round of the last 14 tournaments (including the Olympics).

  1. Venus Williams has been gearing up for the Olympic games for almost a year, and even went so far as to add patriotic colors to her hair just before the Games began. Despite losing in the 3rd round in singles, Venus and her sister Serena will be vying for gold in doubles. We may need to start referring to them as the "Golden Girls" of tennis.

  1. Best/worst Olympic opening ceremony outfits. Yep, I’m going there. No disrespect to the athletes, but Australia seemed to have a bad case of the blands. Their team’s outfits made them look like they were working at the event. Best outfits? Poland. Now THAT is a dress you can wear again.

  1. Germany's Julia Georges scored a big, early win by upsetting world No. 2 Aggie Radwanska in the 1st round. She managed to find her 5th gear, but was eventually stopped in the 3rd round by surprise semifinalist, Maria Kirilenko.

  1. Heading into his first Olympic Games, John Isner was coming off a big, repeat grass-court win in Newport, RI. He managed to keep America's hope alive for a medal in singles, until he was taken out by Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.

  1. It was a tough 1st rd. loss at the Olympics for 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur, but it’s no secret that grass isn't her best surface. Since 2003, she has had six 1st rd. losses at Wimbledon, including the Olympics. Despite advancing to the QF in mixed doubles at the Olympics (with Rusty Hewitt), she's probably happy that the hard-court season is just around the corner.

  1. Technology and innovation can only take us so far, apparently. NBC's "Live" streaming isn't exactly live, and consequently, didn't exactly win over any new fans this past week. The solution? Avoid any social media outlets during the Olympics, or stay glued to your Twitter feed without watching any of the matches on NBC.

  1. How long did it take Roger Federer to beat Juan Martin del Potro in the biggest nail-biter of the Olympic Games? Just 4 hours, and 26 minutes...officially the longest tennis match in Olympic history. Third set score: 19-17. That's why he's No. 1.

  1. If the Olympics were giving out gold medals for the best wrist bands, Andy Murray would win.

  1. Caroline Wozniacki: New coach, same game. She was flattened by a steamrolling-Serena in the Olympic quarterfinals, on grass. Wozniacki said in her presser that playing on hard courts would have been a better surface for the Olympic games, because it would have "equaled it out for everyone".  Not sure if you'd get a Wimbledon champion to agree with that.

  1. It's possible that the best of 3 set matches might be better for tennis overall (+ a 5-set final), which is how they do it at the Olympics. At the very least, it could reduce the risk of injury.

  1. Roger Federer passed on his third opportunity to carry his home country's flag in the opening ceremony in order to let a lesser-sung Swiss (Stan Wawrinka) have a chance to sample the Olympic experience. Generous? Yes. It could have also been that Federer was playing first on Centre Court the next morning and didn’t want to stand for five hours.

  1. It's important to highlight the uneven distribution of Olympic ranking points: 750 for men (gold), 685 for women (gold), yet ranking points for silver are higher for women: 470 vs. 450 for men. And the reason is...?

  1. It appears that NBC ran out of options for sports commentators before the start of the Olympics. Let’s just say, Pat O’Brien is like a fish out of water covering tennis for NBC. He can’t pronounce player names, and I’m not so sure he can keep score of a match. Stick to covering entertainment news, Pat. The same can be said for Ryan Seacrest, but at least we can keep up with the Kardashians with Ryan on the job.

  1. Andy Roddick. The poor guy. He loves tennis, and loves to compete, but his body doesn’t love it so much anymore. He lost in the 2nd round in singles, and 1st round in doubles. Hopefully, when the time comes, he will be able to retire on his own terms.

  1. It’s not the kind of record you expect to see broken at the Olympics, but Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic will take it: The longest set in Olympic history. Unfortunately, someone had to lose, and by the smallest of margins. Because of the no-tiebreak rule for deciding sets, the three-hour long, 3rd set went in Tsonga’s favor, 25-23. The 66 games were the most ever played in a three-set Olympic match and the 48-game third set also set a record. In a word: EPIC.

  1. On again, off again…No, not Kim Kardashian's relationship with Kanye. It's the rain. While the roof over Centre Court at the Olympics prevented the weather from raining on the big parade, the outer courts were inevitably empty during rain delays, causing a US-Open-like backlog of matches.

  1. It’s the beginning of the end for Kim Clijsters, exiting her second to last pro tournament after losing to Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. It’s been a privilege to watch Clijsters play over the years, and we can only hope that the up and comers will be able to fill the void (sniff).