Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Kim Time?
Home       About Peter Bodo       Contact        RSS       Follow on Twitter Categories       Archive
Kim Time? 01/05/2010 - 1:54 PM

95583687 by Pete Bodo

I've been thinking about Kim Clijsters a fair amount these past few days; I think she's going to have a big -- a very big -- 2010. So she's my choice as the most likely player of the year on the women's side; later this week, I'll also choose a potential male PoY for 2010.

My feelings about Clijsters didn't really crystallize until I read and thought about the return of Justine Henin. Yes, these two Belgians are joined at the metaphorical hip, and have been for a long time. And one reason I think Clijsters will do well is because 2010 represents a great opportunity for her finally to escape from Henin's shadow. I'm sure she wouldn't mind at all if she also puts Henin into her own. Payback. It's an itch.

The Clijsters saga, despite all those elements that could be stitched onto a sampler pillow, seems so artfully constructed that Kim or her advisers couldn't possibly have dreamed it up. In 2007, when she "retired" (it's a prettier word than "quit"), she had one Grand Slam title to her credit, and a long history as a talented but woefully choke-prone competitor. She was 1-5 in major finals, and 12-10 against her nemesis, the dynamo Henin. But keep in mind that from 2001 to 2003, Clijsters dominated Henin, including in some major events; from 2003 on, the tables were dramatically turned. The turning point came in Berlin, in 2003, where Henin squeaked out a win, 7-5 in the third. A few weeks later, the Sister of No Mercy surrendered just four games to Clijsters in a brutal Roland Garros final, winning 6-0, 6-4. That opened the floodgates: from that point on, Henin was 8-3 (4-0 in major finals) against Clijsters.

Clijsters also suffered at the hands of Venus Williams, although a few wins late in their rivalry helped Clijsters build the H2H to a respectable 5-6. Champagne Kimmy was less successful against Venus's sister, Serena, who was 7-1 (and 2-0 in majors) against Clijsters at the time the latter took her break from tennis. Clijsters did manage to wave good-bye with a positive H2H against Maria Sharapova, 4-3, although she was 1-1 against Maria in Grand Slam semis. Clijsters was a narrow 8-7 with Amelie Mauresmo, but hey - she owned that other Grand Slam champ, Svetlana Kuznetsova (7-1)! Didn't everyone?

Given all this, you might be inclined to think that Clijsters was totally bummed out when she heard that Justine Henin was following her out of seclusion, but the operative word there is "following." Henin is the one doing the following now, which is a 180-degree shift, and symbolic in a larger sense of where the two women stand in relation to each other. Given the way Clijsters stole the summer headlines in '09, the message seems clear: Clijsters has re-invented herself (that cute little kid of Clijsters is, among other things, a convenient distraction, although Clijsters certainly doesn't see it that way). The problem for Henin is that there was nothing to re-invent; she just faces the challenge of getting back to what she once was. She's burning a different form of emotional fuel.

The other day, in my post at ESPN, I went into the reasons that Henin might have a tougher row to hoe in her comeback than did Clijsters. I wrote that because her game is rooted in finesse and versatility, it may take her a long time to find her timing and turn her on-court decision-making into an instinctive reaction. But there's a little more to it than that. When I compared Clijsters to a four-wheel drive pick-up truck and Henin to a Ferrari, I was also thinking about where the game is, in general, and what it takes to win - on both tours.

Men's tennis has become, over recent years, a much more physical game. Pure power no longer reaps enormous benefits in the form of aces or winners the way it once did; it now pays off in long-haul stamina. Not just the ability to run for a long time, but the ability to maintain racket-head speed, quick-start muscle reactions, consistency of stroke. The relatively new polyester strings have played a part in this evolution; the harder you swing now, the more confident you can feel that the shot will go in. This has had a huge impact on the game (although we've seen that mostly in the men's game - so far).

A racket isn't a very heavy object, but when you have to swing it accurately, with something like full force, for two-and-a-half hours or longer, it can feel like an anvil. This will be an increasingly big factor in the women's game, too - just as serving power and efficiency is a new frontier that the women are finally beginning to explore.

Clijsters is well-positioned to take advantage of these developments, because she's an exceptionally physical athlete. A few weeks ago, Caroline Wozniacki told me (she was talking about her U.S. Open final against Clijsters): "That was the first time I’ve played her. She’s hitting a heavy ball. Every time you play short, she takes another step forward and wants to be the first to attack. She’s a good runner, too, and a fighter. I wouldn’t call it a different level from the other girls, but she was fresh and relaxed. She’s accomplished all she wanted already, so she’s just playing for herself and her family. I could feel she was relaxed and enjoying the game."

With all due respect to Caroline, I'm thinking it might be a different level.

We all love to watch tennis matches, and sometimes we get in too wrapped up in the details of the game - how someone hit the ball on a certain day against a certain opponent. We can learn a lot from that, but there's a forest-and-trees element at play, because so much of what happens in any specific match is determined by form of the day. We get a better understanding of the game if we look at how a player's fundamental profile fits into the gestalt. To me, the game is becoming more and more physical, and Wozniacki's experience puts into perspective the threat Clijsters represents to her peers and rivals.

If you want to read a counter-point, check out the piece Tom Tebbutt wrote for ESPN on this subject. Tom is a tennis aesthete who worships at the altar of Federer, irretrievably in love with "beautiful" tennis. And with Henin back and Roger Federer in command of the men's game until someone says otherwise, fans of pretty tennis are experiencing glory days. I'm not sure how much longer that will be sustainable, though. Last year's men's U.S. Open final was telling to me, in that it represented the first time that someone other than Rafael Nadal was able to play the game on his own terms on a big stage and get the best of Federer. Against Juan Martin del Potro in that final, Federer took his familiar position: Play any way you want; I'll still find a way to beat you. Del Potro responded with: Okay, its power tennis, with the emphasis on physicality.

In that match, Federer was banking on his formidable abilities to transition from defense to offense - to absorb del Potro's most punishing blows and use them roughly the way wise Yoda used The Force in Star Wars. Yoda, of course, was much older than Federer (Yoda was 900-plus years when he died; that's older than Jonas Bjorkman!) and his complexion was considerably greener than that of the olive-skinned Swiss. But in the end, Federer was unable to turn del Potro's power against him, and he spent most of the match futilely chasing rockets. Even when he did catch up with them, they were too hot to handle and fire back.

For different reasons, Clijsters took a similar, Federer-esque attitude into her U.S. Open semifinal with Serena Williams, but she came away with a different result (the match was close enough before the bizarre ending to draw that conclusion, no matter what might have happened at the end in a more conventional scenario). And she was one of the very few women who managed to resist Serena's shoving and pressing and athletic bullying.

95509212 The first time around, Clijsters suffered some injuries that hampered her effectiveness and probably contributed to her disappointing results in the late stages at some big events. But her game, specifically her physical attributes and abilities, were never in question. Like the lion in the Wizard of Oz, the thing she most needed was a heart. Other players, including Pete Sampras and Martina Navratilova, have faced and conquered a similar shortcoming. There's no reason Clijsters can't do it as well. If she's managed to banish her demons and her smoldering resentment of the way Henin once stole her thunder, she's positioned to flourish.

Now that the Williams sisters are nearing the finish line of their careers and appear to be in some stage of physical decline, Clijsters moves up is an ideal specimen for an increasingly physical game.


735
Comments
Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.
<<      1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Posted by Alexis 01/06/2010 at 02:28 PM

Doha OOP:

Troicki vs Kubot
Nadal vs Darcis
Federer vs Gulbis
Davidenko vs Karlovic

Posted by sokol 01/06/2010 at 02:30 PM

"can you imagine the results in her career with a more consistant serve"

*sigh*

Posted by greenhopper 01/06/2010 at 02:33 PM

Thanks, AM. I'll try to watch them today.

True, MA, new season and lots of new partnerships. And we'll see about Lukas/Leander doing well.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/06/2010 at 02:51 PM

Rafa's new website is still under construction for the next few weeks.

Rafa will personally be posting these next weeks on his Facebook page.


Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/06/2010 at 03:01 PM

Davydenko said he was surprised to have won his match in two sets today

"I practised for only two weeks and then I fell sick.I was on medicine before coming here,so I am still struggling with my shots.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 01/06/2010 at 03:23 PM

Samantha Elin, 7:58

You are correct. Caro was born in Denmark, not Poland.

This Typepad software is truly acting up today. :)
___________________________________

If this is a repeat posting, my apologies.

Typepad lollygagging again?

Posted by Master Ace 01/06/2010 at 03:50 PM

Thursday Order of Play

All times are USA EST

WTA: Auckland starts at 5 PM - QF: Peer/Kirilenko, Date Krumm/Wickmayer, and Pennetta/Cibulkova
WTA: Brisbane starts at 7:30 PM - QF: Pavlyuchenkova/Ivanovic, Hantuchova/Petkovic, and Czink/Henin
ATP: Brisbane starts at 7:30 PM - QF: Odesnik vs Stepanek
HOPMAN: Australia vs Spain at 9 PM in Perth - Stosur vs Martinez Sanchez to start session on first court followed by Hewitt vs Robredo
HOPMAN: Romania vs United States at 9 PM in Perth - Cirstea vs Oudin to start session on second court followed by Hanescu vs Isner
WTA: Auckland starts at 1:30 AM - QF: Schiavone vs Cornet
MIXED: Brisbane starts at 4 AM - QF: Clijsters/Safarova and Blake/Monfils
ATP: Chennai starts at 6:30 AM - Wawrinka, Sela, and Ginepri are scheduled
ATP: Doha starts at 7:30 AM - QF: Troicki/Kubot, Darcis/Nadal, Federer/Gulbis, and Davydenko/Karlovic

Posted by ks 01/06/2010 at 04:07 PM

"the elite players, the Williamses, Sharapova, Caro, Justine, Kim"

nice group of elite players :-), strange though that in your view Caro who doesn't have a Slam is elite player and Sveta, who's 2-time GS Champion and ranked higher than Caro is not...

Posted by Conrad 01/06/2010 at 04:09 PM

I'm rooting for Kim to have a great 2010, and I agree with most of this article. I had similar thoughts on the matter when I watched her match Serena on the baseline in their US 09 semi-final. But she was only matching Serena, not exceeding her... and Serena has a gear I've never seen in any other woman, even her sister. Justine has the most complete game, it's true.. and there will be moments, probably several, where she's perfect and nearly unstoppable... but Serena, Kim, and Venus can do it, if they are on song. Kim has already proven she's up for it. She looks awesome early on in 2010

Posted by ks 01/06/2010 at 04:13 PM

my post at 04:07 PM was for Samantha Ellin

Posted by Conrad 01/06/2010 at 04:15 PM

If Federer is Yoda, Serena is Darth Vader. I mean that in the best way possible. I love Serena.

Posted by ladyjulia 01/06/2010 at 05:03 PM

Federer plays Ernie????

I will be missing the match...but it should be a good one..

Posted by Rosangel 01/06/2010 at 05:13 PM

Instead of PoY, what about a PoNY (player of the next year?). Beats talking about GOATs :)

Posted by Master Ace 01/06/2010 at 05:16 PM

Thursday Order of Play

WTA: Auckland starts at 5 PM - QF: Peer/Kirilenko, Date Krumm/Wickmayer, and Pennetta/Cibulkova
WTA: Brisbane starts at 7:30 PM - QF: Pavlyuchenkova/Ivanovic, Hantuchova/Petkovic, and Czink/Henin
ATP: Brisbane starts at 7:30 PM - QF: Odesnik vs Stepanek
HOPMAN: Australia vs Spain at 9 PM in Perth - Stosur vs Martinez Sanchez to start session on first court followed by Hewitt vs Robredo. If Spain wins one set, they will advance to the final but if they fail to win one set, Australia will advance to the final.
HOPMAN: Romania vs United States at 9 PM in Perth - Cirstea vs Oudin to start session on second court. Due to an abductor injury sufferred by Hanescu, Isner will face off against Kohlschreiber(per Hopman website)
WTA: Auckland starts at 1:30 AM - QF: Schiavone vs Cornet
MIXED: Brisbane starts at 4 AM - QF: Clijsters/Safarova and Blake/Monfils
ATP: Chennai starts at 6:30 AM - Wawrinka, Sela, and Ginepri are scheduled
ATP: Doha starts at 7:30 AM - QF: Troicki/Kubot, Darcis/Nadal, Federer/Gulbis, and Davydenko/Karlovic

Posted by sokol 01/06/2010 at 05:44 PM

"PoNY (player of the next year?). Beats talking about GOATs :)"

lol

Posted by Or 01/06/2010 at 05:45 PM

Shahar won the first set against Marikiri, a bagel. I can hear the protestors with a whistle in the background.

Posted by observer 01/06/2010 at 05:46 PM

I haven't been able to see anything other than the scoreboard, but has Shahar Peer been on fire this week or what? I've always liked her--she's tough and fun to watch and seems genuinely nice via Twitter--but in particular I want her to do well when she's at events where people are giving her a hard time and expecting her to withdraw from a tournament for reasons that have nothing to do with her. She seems to be taking the problems and turning them into motivation really well this week.

Posted by Or 01/06/2010 at 05:48 PM

Yikes, Marikiri with a BP, after Shahar bageled her in the first.

Posted by observer 01/06/2010 at 05:49 PM

FWIW, Hong Kong Classic today/tonight will be The Americas vs. Europe. I think that will be Venus v. Caro, Gisela Dulko v. Vika, and Michael Chang v. Stefan Edberg. I don't know who plays mixed doubles for these teams-- I'm guessing Venus/Chang v. Woz/Edberg.

Posted by Or 01/06/2010 at 05:49 PM

Man, those whistles are annoying.

Posted by observer 01/06/2010 at 05:52 PM

You have to feel bad for her. Without bringing politics into it at all, you can see why it's unfair to Peer. It's not like people in Israel protest the presence of New Zealand athletes because of the way NZ treated its indigenous people.

Posted by sokol 01/06/2010 at 05:54 PM

"Shahar won the first set against Marikiri"

what' is wrong with Makiri? a bagel, really?
Come on, Masha, wake up. Davai!

Posted by CL 01/06/2010 at 06:07 PM

"It's not like people in Israel protest the presence of New Zealand athletes because of the way NZ treated its indigenous people."

Well played.

observer - wow..that HK Classic sound greaaaaat. If only I could see it .. **le sigh**

Posted by Kombo 01/06/2010 at 07:24 PM

I just watched some highlights Justine's classic and recent matches and I'm very happy she's playing again. :D Justine's by far my favorite WTA player. She just plays a more dynamic game than the other ladies whether she wins or not, we'll have to wait and see, but I'll definitely be watching more WTA this year than last.

Posted by MikeDC 01/06/2010 at 07:50 PM

I realize this is old news... and I (sadly because I would like Justine to be #1 as a fan) have to agree with Pete's conclusion. But I disagree that the game has become more physical since Justine was at her best.

In 2007 Justine had her best year. What top player did she beat in three straight slam quarterfinals? Evonne Goolagong? Chris Evert? Jill Craybas? I can't quite remember if the player I have in mind would be considered "physical" or not compared to the 2009 crop.

Posted by Sam 01/07/2010 at 12:18 PM

"If she's managed to banish her demons and her smoldering resentment of the way Henin once stole her thunder, she's positioned to flourish."

Yes, if ...

"I wrote that because her game is rooted in finesse and versatility, it may take her a long time to find her timing and turn her on-court decision-making into an instinctive reaction."

That may be the case, and as a result I've tempered my expectations during the early part of the season. But I suspect that once the claycourt season is upon us, Justine will have found her form/comfort zone, and be poised to do well at the French Open.

Posted by Sam 01/07/2010 at 12:20 PM

Hmm, that's weird. I entered my e-mail address and my name still came up in black text.

Posted by BumblebeeTennisNYC 01/07/2010 at 12:29 PM

She’s an impressive player in WTA, because she's an exceptionally physical athlete and plays a more dynamic game.


www.bumblebeetennis.com

Posted by brown sugar 01/07/2010 at 03:28 PM

ONCE AGAIN!!!!!! NEVER COUNT A WILLIAM SISTER OUT.

Posted by brown sugar 01/07/2010 at 03:34 PM

DO NOT COUNT THE WILLIAMS SISTER OUT YOU WILL BE SORRY!

Posted by BROWN SUGAR 01/07/2010 at 03:39 PM

I THINK PETE BODO, IS MISTAKEN ABOUT BOTH WILLIAMS SISTERS.

Posted by Cosi 01/07/2010 at 10:58 PM

well, Justine has made the final of her first tournament back, guess it didn't take her that long to find her timing and on court decision making. Those Ferraris, they are called high performance vehicles for a reason.

Posted by Vincent 01/08/2010 at 04:53 AM

Hi
Sorry Peter but i've read what you have wrote many times before 5 or 6 years aggo.
But once again you're so wrong! Justine will suprise youas she has done in the past. Kim is a great player and yes the game looked pretty physical but it was the same 20 months aggo when Justine was on top. If you remember well Henin has enough weapons in her game(as for exemple variety) so she can still win. Of course she could have need more time to recover her game (more complexe than Clijsters's)but as you can see now she's already into the final in Brisbane: her first tournement of her comeback!!!
Power tennis against "pretty tennis" : i can't understand the post of M.X writing he don't like a more complete or pretty tennis.... A lot of the girls now (as the Williams & Sharapova)can only hit hard and harder but when they have to go to the net they just are poor players so week. i think it's sad to prefer such players.really sad!
Justine Henin is not a great champion but an exeptional champion. That's what makes the difference!
It was really time she comeback! Women tennis was really boring and unintresting without her!

Posted by hitnrun 01/11/2010 at 02:21 PM

2010 will be an interesting year with womens Tennis. I am looking forward to the rivalry between Serena, Kim and Justine. The one thing I want everyone to remember is Serena is a beast on the court and when she sets her mind on beating someone she usually does. Best believe she will get her revenge in Kim when she figures out how to play her game and use it to beat her. Justine is back and she was a big problem for Serena but I expect her to rise to the challenge as well so even though I am excited for Kim and the year ahead dont expect Serena and Justine to just bow down. Best believe they are walking away with atleast one of the four OPEN titles in 2010. This year may be a good year for Kim but I dont believe she will win all the opens this year. Australian Open looks to be up in the air between the three. Justine has the French. Venus becomes a factor in Wimbledon so its up in the air again and the US open will fall between Kim and Serena again. I know people are asking what happened to Sharapova. Me Too!!!! Venus might surprise all of us and hold her game together other than at Wimbledon. I hate guessing so lets just wait and see. Serena is looking forward to the challenge!!!!

Posted by henrylow 01/25/2010 at 11:58 PM

Having been a part of the Online Universal Work Marketing team for 4 months now, I’m thankful for my fellow team members who have patiently shown me the ropes along the way and made me feel welcome

www.onlineuniversalwork.com

<<      1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Leave a Comment



<<  The Elite, Part 4 Vera Makes a Move  >>




Wild Women of the U.S. Open
Wild Men of the U.S. Open
Roddick's Imperfect World
"It's Kind of a Dance"
Nadal's Kneeds
The Racquet Scientist: Canadian Tennis
The Long and Short of It
This blog has 3693 entries and 1646147 comments.
More
More Video
Daily Spin