Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - The Millstone
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The Millstone 05/07/2007 - 4:04 PM

I certainly hope she finds in marriage the things she didn't get from tennis, or at least things that may one day lead her to look back on a decidedly checkered career and say, "Hey, maybe that wasn't so bad, after all."

Kimmy Well, Steve Tignor has got Rome covered, live, so let's talk about the women. For those of you who were wondering what it would take to get WTA tennis back in the discussion (the WTA goes almost totally off piste at this time of year, leaving the men on the European clay-court circuit to hog all the glory), here's your answer: Champagne Kim Clijster's retirement, which she announced just the other day at her website, www.IhatetennisanddidyouknowI'

As I've already written in my Monday ESPN blog, the news comes not a minute too soon for me. Kim made a career out of being "nice", although I would put it slightly differently: she staked out the high ground of "niceness" quite effectively, but managed - especially near the end of her tedious and uninspired career - to use that apprehension as a handy shield while she kept ducking her head out to make it sound as if having a remunerative career as a global tennis star is a sentence worse than death (which, for me, would be watching an endless tape loop of a typical Kim Clijsters tennis match).

A few people have already written me, asking why I "hate" Champagne Kimmy. I think we've covered this ground pretty well over the past 24 months at this blog, so I'm only giving the short version. First, I don't hate anybody. Kim is a public figure who can - and ought to be -  be judged by her actions and words in the public arena, and on what she brought to her profession. To me, her actions and words often hit a false note, and what she brought to the profession was a solid but dull game and a deeply flawed competitive nature.

And I wouldn't be saying all this if Clijsters had handled this abrupt departure from the game (she's only 23) with something like grace, humility and charm. Instead, she backed out sniping and carping, like some disgruntled peasant milkmaid ruing her lot and making poisonous accusations against the Lady of the Manor - was it Madame Justine?

In fact, there is only one compassionate way to look at Kim's messy, clumsy, poorly orchestrated "retirement" process (this potential "farewell tour" ended up looking more like some rock concert that ends abruptly when everybody starts burning chairs and throwing punches). I suppose that deep down she might feel conflicted about leaving tennis, the game she purports to despise; that would certainly explain why she seems to feel so obliged to keep telling anyone who'll listen (is there anyone like that left?) that she's dying to get married, that she can't wait to have children, that she's so excited about starting her new life. Maybe she's trying to convince herself, along with us. I don't know and I stopped caring a while ago. Cut her some slack? Sure, whatever. . .

My fundamental antipathy to Clijsters goes way back, too. Most of the time, when I see a young player who's destined to be a Grand Slam champ, I'm either deeply impressed or I make a mental note: Keep an eye on this one. . . When I first saw Clijsters, I groaned. I thought: very good athlete, excellent movement for a girl so thickly built, a game with roughly the same degree of sex appeal as curling, but without the wacky bits that make curling fun to watch for 30 seconds. She might have moved me off my position if she had showed some heart and drive, won me over with her competitive character, but as time went on it became apparent to me that she was one of the least inspired players I've ever watched.

Perhaps Kimmy was the prisoner of a game at which she happened to be very good, but which brought out nothing great in her. Maybe there's nothing "great" in her, and that's okay - that would make her like me and some of you. It certainly could explain why she was as eager to "get out" as some lifetime mid-level manager stuck in a whopper of a bureaucracy. But the thing is, she wasn't stuck in a situation anything like that: tired paper shufflers don't get to see Paris, free, or earn over $15 million (just prize-money) in a nine-year career. It's not about the money, of course, except in the ways that it is.

What Kimmy did so routinely, and why I take some pleasure in poking fun at her, is drain the fun, beauty and spontaneity out of the game. She made it seem that tennis really is a just a dumb game featuring two people randomly batting a ball back-and-forth around over a net. I'm not sure she ever made an interesting comment or observation. I suppose it's not entirely fair to hold someone accountable for being terminally dull. But I had the feeling that there was more to it than that - that for Clijsters it was somehow not worth the bother to say what she really thought or felt, or perhaps even to know, herself, what she thought or felt. That it was not worth the effort to address her shortcomings as a player or competitor. That it was too much trouble to cowboy up and accept all the things that come with the territory of being a top player. It was easier just to go through the motions.

But wait, you say, she was always injured! I guess you can take that into account. But it seems that when someone like her promoter pal Bob Verbeeck called, she flung away her crutches like some New Testament leper and rushed to play - after all, the tournament was at home in Belgium, in front of her adoring fans. That was just one of the many things that didn't add up, or did, but to a different portrait than the one Kimmy wanted to see painted of herself. No wonder she ended up despising the artist.

But wait, she was nice.

In professional terms, "nice" is - at best - a value-added component. Evonne Goolagong Cawley was a great player and a charismatic, warm person who loved the game  - and she was "nice", too.  Monica Seles was a Grand Slam warrior princess and a charming ingenue, who also happened to be "nice." Martina Navratilova wasn't "nice" but who cared? She was an awesome champion, honest (if not always with and about herself) to a flaw, and she didn't give a hang about being "nice."

Being "nice" isn't all that different from being good-looking. It's great to be that; it's certainly better than being a grouch, in the same way that being handsome beats being plug-ugly. But being nice is not a virtue; it's a characteristic - just like being comely. The drama of a life is played out between the virtues (some of them, like honesty, are morally based; others, like courage, are psychologically and physically based) not the characteristics, and for higher stakes. If you're merely "nice" you may not experience that drama, or ever understand the finished work. That may be part of Clijsters problem, too. It would certainly explain why she seems so angry and baffled by her life and history in tennis.

Everyone largely writes his or her own story, and even if you love Kim Cljisters you have to admit that the story she wrote became a downer. She's a human buzz kill. She's even managed to make people feel indifferent to what is supposed to be a high and happy point of her adult life. So now I've convinced myself that Clijsters is a figure who deserves some measure of sympathy, for "niceness" might very well have been the millstone hanging around this girl's neck all these years.

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Posted by Zola 05/07/2007 at 04:20 PM

Am I first?...
Pete , I am happy it is was the most painful exit ever. I hope she takes the time she needs to do those other things and enjoys her life and hopefully come back some time later, more relaxed and more interested, like what Hingis did.

Posted by Pete 05/07/2007 at 04:34 PM

It's funny, Zola, I was just thinking how a comeback would not be entirely out of the question - she is, after all, young.

Posted by Jenn 05/07/2007 at 04:36 PM

Thanks, Pete, for your insight on this abrubt announcement this weekend. I don't necessarily agree that she was a terribly dull player - when she was on her game, such as her first run to a GS final in Roland Garros and her first set smoking of Capriati in a final that was very winnable for her, and during the hard court season leading up to her US Open run, I found her to be a fantastic mover who could strike the ball cleanly and run down everything an opponent could throw at her. I did not find her dull in that sense. But you really captured my feelings at the very end of your piece when you said that, even for her fans like me, she became the ultimate "buzz kill." As a fan, it was hard to watch her just throw away match after big match without seeing so much as a spark from her that it made a difference whether she bashed winners or hit them into the net. The tennis on those big occassions became mindless and resigned. After so many of those matches, I just could not watch anymore because she gave you very little to root for at the end of the day.

I still find it unfathomable that after devoting most of her young life to this sport, she wants to go out like this rather than at least playing one more Wimbledon or US Open where the fans could send her off as a former champion and popular player. This exit is one that I imagine she will regret down the line. So, good luck to her, and good riddance, I guess.

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 05/07/2007 at 04:37 PM

she retired last year, but either did not know it or was unwilling to accept or announce it. The best to her and when she was playing, I enjoyed her tennis more than Pete, I would agree there was something odd with the whole thing - just not interested enough to try and figure it out.

Posted by Lizzie 05/07/2007 at 04:39 PM

I agree with a lot of what you say Pete, despite having had a bit of a soft spot for Kim. All this airy fairy head in the clouds nonsense about this wedding just makes me want to slap her. Most of the people I have known who have this romantic idea of walking off into the sunset for marriage and kids find the reality hardest to bear, and she's so young! She has no idea. I mean the girl was prepared to marry Hewitt! Still the only other thing I'd say is that I think you dismiss the injury thing too easily. Rehab is soleless and depressing and she'll never not have to do it. So in a way no wonder she chooses to think about something else. However damn annoying it is.

Posted by MrsSanta 05/07/2007 at 04:41 PM

Pete this is somewhat different from the ESPN rant which was funny and acidic. It's as if you were channeling M+T=T.

Back during the AO Lucy and I were ranting over Kim's vapid niceness. It's boring, it made her boring but more importantly it gave her a very obvious superiority complex to pull the most egregious stunts ...calling Juju a doper, whining incessantly about her injuries, languishing as a disinterested underachiever and then vomiting all over the women's tour for her farewell season and we are all supposed to understand because Kim's nice and deserves some joy. Good riddance I say.

Posted by Ray Stonada 05/07/2007 at 04:46 PM

Can't wait for your post from the wedding, Pete!

Well, I agreed with you on ESPN and I basically agree with you now, with the slight caveat that I figure Clijsters deserves more pity than condemnation for taking her eggs out of the "top-five tennis player in the world" basket and putting them into "married" as though they're exclusive.

Posted by Myskina+Trains=Tolstoy 05/07/2007 at 04:48 PM

Pete, this is rather bitter and harsh. Well done.

Posted by Jenn 05/07/2007 at 04:49 PM

That's a great point, Ray. If you want to get married, get married! Justine, for one, won tons of titles and got to #1 after getting married. Not that her situation is one to emulate in retrospect, but the idea that you have to give up your career to get married is pretty archaic. The bottom line is that she obviously just doesn't want to play anymore and the marriage thing seems like a convenient excuse.

I wonder if she had married Lleyton 2 years ago if she would have continued playing and how that would gone.

Posted by Liz (for Federer & Serena) 05/07/2007 at 04:51 PM

I will admit I didn't have much interest in whether or not "champagne Kimmie" played or didn't play, but...if as she says her body was falling apart, doesn't it make sense for her to get out sooner rather than later??

Unfortunately, I think she did rather drag out the "today I'm retired, today I'm not" scenario a bit too much. First she was going to finish the year, then she changes her mind. At least she didn't do the Jimmy Connors on us. He acted as if he resented people asking him when he was going to retire. I always thought he stayed out there as long as he could stand just so people would stop asking him when he was going to retire.

I will confess she was one player's career that I really didn't follow closely as my impression of her was that she was that player who always lost to Justine Henin.

I must say for a player who only won one slam and didn't do much to distinguish herself on the tour, she managed to make it to # 1 in the world in singles AND in doubles. I remember it was most unfortunate that she could not return to defend the one GS title she did win at the US Open because of injury. She also made it to 5 GS finals & won two GS titles in the doubles, so she didn't do half bad as a tennis player. She's got a dowry, if you will, that she's bringing to the marriage of $14 mil

Well done, "champagne Kimmie"!

Posted by Pete 05/07/2007 at 04:57 PM

Wow, a whole gaggle of TW all-stars in just 10 comments. . . Hey everyone!

Posted by jhurwi 05/07/2007 at 04:58 PM

I think Kim Clijsters should have retired after Antwerp, which was obviously emotionally important to her--nothing on her schedule after that seems to have gotten her excited or involved. Even though I prefer Henin's game, I enjoyed watching Clijsters more than Pete did. I would have liked to see her win the Australian Open even though she was no longer "Aussie Kim" after breaking up with Hewitt. As to whether she's Hall of Fame material, I think we need more time to put her in perspective before we can decide that.
I don't think players have to be "nice" --I've never wanted to meet any of my favorites (in sports or in music)in person because I admire what they do as professionals and I don't want that to be mixed up with my feelings toward them as private individuals. (I know, for example, that my all-time favorite tenor was notoriously difficult to work with, but that didn't affect my response to his work on stage.) But while no one has have to be ostentatiously "nice" in order for me to be a fan of theirs, I'd certainly rather have that than have them want be perceived as rude and obnoxious, like certain male players of the past!

Posted by Suresh 05/07/2007 at 05:00 PM

Pete, I agree.

By the way, are you attending her marriage ? LOL

When she was on her game, it was fun to watch, but she lost on the big stage and the loss did not seem to upset her at all - or so that was the impression I gained by the way she behaved after each loss on a big occasion.

Not sure if she will stage a comeback like Hingis or Navratilova did. Kimmy does not seem to have the appetite for competition, but then again who knows ......

Posted by Ryan 05/07/2007 at 05:01 PM

Pete, this post perfectly encapsulates your feelings on quite a faux enigma such as Kim. You have indeed seemed harsh before, but your reasoning here justifies it. In fact, whereas previously I was indifferent toward Kim, I see myself adopting your mindset. Especially after having read her comment regarding "no more lies in the papers"--what, did a local Belgian paper report that she made snickerdoodles instead of gingerbread cookies??

Posted by FoT 05/07/2007 at 05:05 PM

I'm actually going to miss her splits and all... I did like Kimmy but like some of the others said, realistically, Kim retired last year. She was just going through the motions this year. I wish her well and hope her marriage is successful. If not...then what will she do then?

Posted by L. Rubin 05/07/2007 at 05:14 PM

Mr. Bodo,

I wish you'd stop futzing around and tell us how you REALLLY feel about Kimmy! Damn, Mr. Bodo: Give me a chance to do myself in should I ever find myself on your s$#* list!

Question: Do you really expect to hear interesting or original thoughts from the mouth of your average athlete? Have I been listening to different press interviews? I ask this because a good 80 percent of these characters strike me as particularly stupid.

Posted by Sam 05/07/2007 at 05:16 PM

Pete: Loved this post and your ESPN post. You perfectly captured my feelings on Clijsters, though I disagreed about her being a one slam wonder (in your ESPN post). I will remember her as being a very good player who came up small on the big stage, particularly against Henin in the 2003 FO and USO finals. Not sure if it was a lack of desire and belief or rushing under pressure (with her forehand breaking down) that did her in on the big stage. That said, I was glad that she did manage to win a singles Slam before all was said and done. And I do wish her the best in her post-tennis life.

Posted by sharong 05/07/2007 at 05:17 PM

Jeez, fess up! You can't stand Clijsters. I thought you'd be so glad to see her retire that you would at least be nice and say nothing. But, you couldn't control yourself. You just had to be mean, hateful and hurtful.

You can't even give her credit for her accomplishments.

You can't understand that Tennis is a more physical sport than it used to be. You won't see players play as long as Evert, Graf and Martina N. ever again as the sport is too much wear and tear on the body.

You act like Kim is the only player ever out for injuries. You fault her for not being the cut throat competitor YOU wish her to be.

Jeez, Sharapova, the Williams Sisters, Henin all very competitive but also all have been out many, many times with injuries and pull out of their fair share of tournaments.

You're right her heart wasn't in it anymore. She realized this and quit on Sunday. Now she's being critized for that too!

Posted by AmyLu 05/07/2007 at 05:19 PM

I'm going to miss the Kim of 2005. I had really hoped she would build upon 2005 because, for the first time, she seemed to really believe that she could win the big match - and she seemed to enjoy playing tennis. I'm not going to dismiss the impact or the toll all the injuries had upon her, nor will I begrudge her of the fact that she wanted to move on to a life that didn't involve tennis. It's just a shame, however, that most of what I will remember her for is mentally capitulating in a big match, particularly against Justine, and this charade of a last season. I feel like she deserves better.

Best wishes to Kim as she moves forward, and I hope that she finds much happiness and joy in her marriage and life outside tennis.

Posted by Beckham 05/07/2007 at 05:23 PM

FoT: you and me both her splits were a sight to behold... :)

But all in all Kim I always felt lacked the killer instinct...there were so many matches she should have won that she didn't...A few that come to mind..the serena AO match?? that she was up 5-1 in the 3rd set and lost...the Wimby match against a clearly injured Venus that she should have won...(I suppose the opposite could be true...i.e. Venus and Serena refused to loose the match) It was just sort of dissapointing to me that she could never close out those games...As Pete alluded too there are many nice players that have won the big matches...I always felt she hid behind the "I'm nice schtick".

However, I would not call her a one slam wonder...I don't like that term...she did get to a couple of grandslam finals as alluded by the other posters...When I think about Kimmy I think more of what could have been....I do wish her well in her marriage and hope she doesn't look back and say what was I thinking?

Posted by Mlelly 05/07/2007 at 05:23 PM

Yes, I'm sure you'll get a lot of mail on this one Pete, but every word of it is true. Would that all her tennis and physical gifts could have gone to someone with the heart to want desperately to win... she clearly never did. At best, she seemed occasionally satisfied. I can't help but compare her diva's exit to that of Lindsay Davenport... She was equally injured/burned out/ tired but she made a classy exit on into the sunset. Bless you Lindsay!

Posted by nora 05/07/2007 at 05:26 PM

I'm a bit shocked by this post. It just sounds...angry.

I think Clijsters has screwed up this year, but that's all she's done wrong. She came back from significant injuries and had a really great, exciting run. When she was winning, she was exciting, as almost all winners are. Who would not have liked to see her win more often? It seemed she had mental issues when she came near to the very top which got in the way of her slam finals. That made it all the nicer when she won a slam. She was a great contrast to Henin (and the other top players) physically and psychologically. It's a great pity she's retiring, and especially in this awkward, poorly managed way.

She's twenty-three and she made the huge, huge mistake of announcing her retirement two years in advance. However dumb this may seem in retrospect, I don't think it is common enough that it would be easy to foresee what might come of it.

A couple of years ago the Manchester United soccer manager, Alex Ferguson, announced, mid-season, that he would retire at the end of the then season. It almost ruined his long, storied career. And he was in his sixties, and unprecedentedly successful, when he did so. When he realized what a mistake it was (it caused no end of speculation about who would take over, unrest in the dressing room, etc) -- he promptly changed his mind. Clijsters might have done the same -- except that she really does have injuries to contend with, and apparently doesn't have the maturity, foresight, or good advisors to help her plan ahead.

Her worst sin as I see it is having an AWOL PR person. This could all have been managed much, much better.

However, I believe that most people think that being nice is completely and utterly different from being good-looking, and will give her the benefit of the doubt over the undoubtedly messy end to a fine and distinguished career.

Posted by Zola 05/07/2007 at 05:34 PM

I think Kim should know that her way of "exit" was not pleasent and the excuses she made were invalid. However, I can't blame her for not feeling like playing tennis now. This is what I felt about many tennis players. That they are pushed into playing tennis at a very young age, mostly to achieve what their parents couldn't. these young kids are open deprived of their childhood and youth. When they grow older, many of them can break under pressure and expectations for a life they did not choose.

So I don't bame Hingis for quitting or Williams sisters for wanting to have other businesses or Kim wanting to get married and have family. These are things they "choose" to do.

I am really hoping that kim goes back to a family life and hopefully come back, this time by her own choice. I will miss her tennis , but I won't miss her 2007. It was a disaster. I am glad she ended our pain.

Posted by highpockets 05/07/2007 at 05:43 PM

I will spit in the eye of the next person who calls me nice.

Pete, I do see your point about Kim, but she is very young and has been suffering from multiple injuries, which probably does take its toll, and apparently she wants a life outside tennis.

However, I do agree that her exit strategy this year has seriously sucked.

Posted by Allie 05/07/2007 at 05:43 PM

Pete, I've never read anything of yours with which I agree more wholeheartedly than this post.

Kim, you were an underachiever, but unlike, say Serena (also an "underachiever", but in a much, much different way- cause Serena should have gone down as the best ever, period), you never showed any sustained desire, guts, or determination- I don't care how many splits you did. Be off with you and don't come back at age 28 after 2 babies, either.
Wow, rather harsh of me, but I'm glad her little "retirement tour" has mercifully been called to a halt.

Posted by Sam 05/07/2007 at 05:47 PM

AmyLu: Following up on your point regarding the Kim of 2005 - I got the sense that she was almost satisfied once she won that elusive Slam title. It seemed that whatever hunger she had sort of dissipated afterwards.

Posted by Andrea 05/07/2007 at 05:49 PM

Very disappointed about Clijsters. I really liked her, her splits, athleticism, and she was a very nice person, but come'd think she'd want to say a proper goodbye to tennis.
I don't want to burst her bubble or spoil her happiness, but geez, couldn't Brian Lynch have waited until the end of the year at least?

Posted by marieJ 05/07/2007 at 05:53 PM

for a girl who was labelled nice, she did not find a way to end up her carreer a nice way, ironic...
kim is the girl who reach almost her dream, she had the strengh but not enough fire and desire to accomplish her goals... she fail short, but she made the best she could, and it's still a resume that some girls would kill for...
i said girls, no champions...
you don't set your wedding right after an important sport event like wimby...
what was the idea, to give herself a chance to get a last trophy as a wedding present ???
what a foolish idea...
after she lost to amelie for the diamond raquet, i'm sure her wedding took the priority in her life...
this farewell tour was a mascarade, and losing the last match in warsaw like that was a bit lame...
i don't know if she realize how much let down effect she had on her fans...
it's sad, she could have done things much better as a sportwoman to end up her career, like playing only the slams and the home tourneys and stick to her word.

i hope her new life brings her many good things, after all it was just about a game...
good bye kim !

Posted by Codge 05/07/2007 at 05:53 PM

Pete, two posts dedicated to Kim is two too many.

Posted by Andrea 05/07/2007 at 06:05 PM

Great post Pete. Funny as usual-
"I suppose it's not entirely fair to hold someone accountable for being terminally dull." lol
same goes for Davydenko

Posted by roland garros 05/07/2007 at 06:05 PM

hey pate, instead of wasting your energy on all this kimmy-hate, why don't you give us your, dare i say it, "informed" opinion of what's going to happen in berlin this week?

Posted by Linex 05/07/2007 at 06:06 PM

Her run at the 2005 Us open was fun to watch. I still remember that she was close to loosing against Maria Sharapova in the semis but she managed to pull it through with an excellent defense and her characteristic splits.

On the other hand it was diappointing to see that everytime she defeated Hingis in the quarters in 2005-2006 she would after surrender very easily against Henin (Roland Garros 2006) or Mauresmo Australia 2006 or Sharapova Australia 2007. My feeling was why on earth did you fight so much against Hingis if you were going to loose like that immediately. At least Hingis was honest enough to state now in Berlin that she would miss her but that on the other hand she was happy that she is retiring for Kim had defeated her 2 times in a row ...

Posted by roland garros 05/07/2007 at 06:08 PM

and by the way, you're right about the WTA not getting enough coverage this time of year. so why don't you rectify it and send someone down to berlin? i hope steve is sticking around in rome for the women next week.

Posted by Pat Kernan 05/07/2007 at 06:15 PM

This editorial (wouldn't call it just a "post", and "rant" is giving it too much credit) was entertaining. To the extent I had to read it with a bucket down at my feet. Had to switch buckets before posting *this.*

What A CROCK. It's a petty "thanks for your years of service/for playing through numerous injuries to placate the tour/sponsors" Hallmark-type special : ]] Well done Pete!!! :/

Posted by dennis 05/07/2007 at 06:19 PM

you hit the nail right on the head, pete. how can we sympathize with kim and her wedding when she makes the game we love so much - tennis - seem like a neverending tiresome grind? i think that we fans love the game more than her and resent her for all her talent and potential for not sharing the same feeling.

Posted by Kenneth 05/07/2007 at 06:30 PM

"...She might have moved me off my position if she had showed some heart and drive, won me over with her competitive character, but as time went on it became apparent to me that she was one of the least inspired players I've ever watched..."

I've never thought you were unduly harsh on Clijsters, Pete, in fact I thought it was all deserved, from the first time she lost a final to Justine up unto the fourth lost final to Henin (was it more? Forgive if I've missed any). I'd rather a player reserve announcements of retirement until just that, much like Davenport did (is doing, is she official yet??) instead of seeing half hearted tennis in every tournament entered...

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 05/07/2007 at 06:34 PM

Until I started reading this blog, I hadn't really thought through a couple of things. One of those things was the interesting relationship between fans and players. I always considered myself as a person "in' the game, but never, really as a "fan."

Now, having spent some time among fans, I see a whole different world. One aspect of that world is how interesting it is that upon the retirement of a former GS champ that basically, the player is subject to second guessing on the basis of not being "something" enough, as if losing the actual matches was not sufficient "punishment" but that further critique was warrented based upon winning or losing the matches in a not sufficiently entertaining way.

Interesting. And all the more so because you have to be a top player to even get this attention. The journeymen of the tour are regarded by the fans as disposable, so when they retire, no notice is taken.

Pete's article was well done, but I could have gone the next million years without it ever occuring to me to write a post like it.

But, that aside, I think that Kim's retirement brings up something else. Clearly, for young women, something needs to be done about the desirability of the WTA tour as a career.

One would think, as Pete's article assumes, that traveling around the world and making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars would be a job most people would kill for.

Well, if we're talking about "18-24 year old women" and not "people" --- apparently not.

I don't know if Rosangel ever finished her statistical analysis of the WTA and how the top players fare against those below 20, below 30, etc. But what I see is a staggaring lack of depth.

Wondering why this would be the case, I often further wondered why, in a world where tennis may be the number one professional sport for women, the depth on the WTA tour was not FAR, FAR SUPERIOR to the ATP tour, after all, the ATP competes for athletes with other sports with millions of players.

Which alternative careers as a professional athlete does the WTA compete with, any?

So now Clistjers retires, the Williams sisters almost retire, Kournikova, who might, if she was named Mark Wooldridge, have stayed on the tour to set some all time grand slam doubles record for a career quits to be a model, and it goes on and on.

Perhaps the idea of travelling 35 plus weeks a year, living in hotels, with no boyfriend or husband, is just not doing it for these girls.

If so, and only someone much, much closer to women's tennis than I am can determine if it is so, the reality is that the WTA might not be able to have a schedule which corresponds to that of the ATP.

It might need to be much, much more compact to allow these girls to have the social lives they apparently want so much that its worth giving up millions of dollars and the actual game of tennis to get.

Roger Federer can apparently easily handle the ATP schedule, with Mirka in tow, and not feel that he is missing out on a thing.

Andre Agassi can continue to play after he has kids.

On the WTA you only have Bammer giving it a go. Everyone else bails.

Now there is some red meat for the crowd.

Posted by marieJ 05/07/2007 at 06:55 PM

dunlop you point out a good argument with the guys who have kids and a full carreer...
most of them have one or 2 kids and i think their wifes are sacrifying a lot of normal life for them...
it's just harder to do it the other way; men standing up for the kids while's mum is running her carreer and you don't even need to be s sportwomen...
you can take a break like bammer, i know there's a player from colombia who came back like that too... or you make the best of it and you stop.
the calendar isn't helping to get a real break either...

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 05/07/2007 at 07:00 PM

Pete - Once in a while I read something that so delights and amuses me that I have to call up a friend and read it to him/her aloud - I'll be doing that with this piece, which perfectly summed up my feelings on the subject of Kim, some of which I didn't even know I had until I read this. Thank you.

Dunlop - regarding women and pro tennis - I don't know - I was with you until you brought up the kid thing right at the end. To state the very obvious, which I'm sure you considered before opining, becoming a parent is a dramatically different proposition physically for women than it is for men. Also, based on my experience, I think women have a much harder time being away from their young children than men do. (As I type this, I have to mention one of my favorite off-court moments in the past ten years - when Andrei Pavel drove home from Paris and back to be with his wife when she delivered their second child a few years ago during the French Open - getting back for his quarterfinal match on three hours' sleep - I've always had great respect for him after that.) And, of course, the Agassi case is very, very special as he is blessed with a wife who understood what he needed more than the typical spouse ever could.

Posted by Myskina+Trains=Tolstoy 05/07/2007 at 07:13 PM

"Perhaps the idea of travelling 35 plus weeks a year, living in hotels, with no boyfriend or husband, is just not doing it for these girls."

No wonder lesbians do so well on the WTA. I would add the omnipresence of a parent figure as contributing to the mental burnout. The men seem more likely to go off and develop on their own without mommy or daddy constantly in tow.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 05/07/2007 at 07:18 PM


In order to keep the post at merely "boring" length rather than "comotose" length, I did not explore the kid thing, but indeed, its another issue and its physical.

If anything, even more of a reason to consider a "gender specific" schedule.

Although, I really have no idea how many players on the ATP or WTA tour have kids, or, historically have had kids. I think that for some reason the WTA tour is not even attractive for young women, period. Certainly the Williams sisters, for example, did not go "part time" because of any concern over having kids.

Posted by Lucy 05/07/2007 at 07:25 PM

Pete, about "nice" being merely a "value-added" component, I tend to agree. As a kind of corollary, I have always found Kimmy personally grating, but until this year I always figured it was a matter of taste - she just didn't appeal to me. No big deal. But this year, with the "farewell tour" and the constant chatter of how she just couldn't wait to exit the tour and start her new life, I felt like it ceased to be simply an issue of whether or not she was likable and started to edge into the territory of tour-damaging behaviour. Tennis can survive people acting surly in pressers, but it cannot survive people refusing to treat competition seriously, at least not with any degree of credibility intact. And by the end it seemed like that was exactly what Kimmy was doing. But, like, good luck to her and everything.

And Dunlop, I'm with Rolo, mothers on the WTA tour are a different issue from the simple desire for a social life in that there are obvious physical impediments to a woman bouncing right back from having kids to rejoin life on the tour. Playing mothers are always going to be the exception rather than the rule.

Posted by Andy 05/07/2007 at 07:31 PM

The phrase "Champagne Kimmy" always cracks me up. I guess it's the ironic hyperbole. There was nothing "champagne"--lively, effervescent--about her.

I never had strong feelings about her game one way or the other, though.


Posted by Rosangel 05/07/2007 at 07:35 PM

Hank/Dunlop: Well, according to Michael Mewshaw's controversial book "Ladies of the Court", the bit about being away from home for so long without the support of a boyfriend or a husband is definitely a big issue for the women on the tour. It makes perfect sense that it would be tough for a young woman in this situation. According to Mewshaw's book, a lot of the women end up having affairs with their (usually older and male) coaches as a result - I can't vouch for his accuracy on this, of course, and would note that his book was published some years ago. Many (according to his book) also either have to deal with a difficult and pushy parental figure, which we know to be true.

How old was Clijsters when she began playing on the tour, incidentally?

Posted by Jay 05/07/2007 at 07:36 PM

Snizzle! This post is a great anti-epitaph to Kim-nasty's crappy career. Thanks, Pete.

Question. If Kim's injuries pain her as much as she says they do, then how does she think popping out 53 of Brian's children is going to feel? (BTW, what kind of odds can I get on my bet that he is one of the blandest people on the planet?)

What a waste of a Grand Slam, too! Come on. That '05 blip at the US Open should have gone to my ice princess, Masha. Over it.

Posted by kat 05/07/2007 at 07:41 PM

I can't believe she really ended it like that but to be honest, it's not hard to imagine her doing. However, as a long time supporter of Kim, I can't help but feel a little hollow about the way she chose to end it playing only 1 slam and less than a handful of other tournaments. I've always placed her in the same class as Agassi in terms of classyness but the 07 season really brought her down a few notches. Show some respect for the tour, the fans, the game and the tournaments. geez

Posted by Lucy 05/07/2007 at 07:46 PM

... and incidentally, I think the contrast between the reaction to this post (broad agreement) and some of Pete's earlier Champagne Kimmy posts (um, spirited debate) says something about how much this exit mode has damaged Kimmy's capital among fans.

Rosia, any thoughts on why it seems tougher for the women than the men to live the tour lifestyle? I haven't given it much thought, but off the top of my head: they're younger; they're more likely to be overparented; their partners are less willing to follow them to the ends of the earth? I don't know.

Posted by Ted 05/07/2007 at 07:53 PM

Hey Pardner; Why don't you tell the world how you really feel?

Posted by Duello 05/07/2007 at 07:53 PM

Clister's retirement from the game will be felt by all male viewers who watched with painful anxiety every time she did her signature move: What I refer to as the sliding split manuveur.

Pete your criticisms about Clister may reveal more about you than her. What player can't be criticized for the way they approached the game? Sampras was too calculated ... Murray is too much of a whiner ... Federer is too reserved ... Safin is too undisciplined, etc., etc.

You could easily criticize Henin and Pierce for their demeanors. And what about Davenport and Capriatti? Their retirements from the game weren't particularly grand either. And do you remember Davenport's Grand Slam meltdowns?

Frankly, I'm not a fan of Clisters. I just think it's interesting that you single her out....Something to bring up with the family therapist? :)

Posted by Rolo Tomassi 05/07/2007 at 07:53 PM

Lucy - couldn't agree more. A lot of my feelings about Kim crystallized during this laughable/lamentable final "year" of hers.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 05/07/2007 at 07:55 PM

To perhaps frame the issue narrowly enough to be of some use, I can say that in terms of guessing, I'm pretty sure that say, Nadal, is not only winning tournaments left and right and making millions of dollars, but also probably considers the playing of tennis for a living to be the ultimate job.

Andy Roddick has only won one Slam as well, and if he's every even mentioned the thought of retiring and that some other lifestyle might be "better" I haven't heard it.

In comparison, Clistjer's characterisation of the "grind" of the WTA tour is hardly unique on the women's side.

The Williams sisters are doing "something" when they are not playing, and we know in Serena's case its certainly nothing athletic, based on how out of shape she was and on how quickly she is getting back in shape.

(as an aside, for all of you attempting to convince us that she was "in shape" 20 or 30 pounds ago at the AO, what say you now?)

What is that "something?" And why is it more attractive than playing the tour? That is the question. The WTA should serve its players.

Posted by Lisa 05/07/2007 at 07:58 PM

Pete: I'm so amazingly proud of you. Kimmy was to the point that she outdid Cher in farewell tours.

Posted by MrsSanta 05/07/2007 at 08:00 PM

Are the reasons for women having a tougher time living the tour lifestyle really that different from the reasons women have a harder time being bankers, lawyrers, neurosurgeons, tennis journalists etc?

Kimmy is quite possibly the best thing that ever happened to Juju's reputation.

Posted by nora 05/07/2007 at 08:05 PM


I note that on the ESPN site, which is not as clubby, there is broad *disagreement* with the post.

Posted by AmyLu 05/07/2007 at 08:06 PM

To weigh in on the tour lifestyle comment, I would imagine it's far easier to find a female significant other who will place the male tennis player's career at the forefront of the relationship than it is to find a male significant other.

Posted by AmyLu 05/07/2007 at 08:09 PM

MrsSanta, I would say no. In fact, in comparison, it's probably much easier to be a female tennis player.

Posted by Lucy 05/07/2007 at 08:10 PM

Duello, I would submit that Pete's treatment of Clijsters rather than the others you mention has less to do with deep psychological issues than with topicality.

Interesting, Nora. Maybe it's just that we've all gotten civilised here. Still, if you can recall the flame wars Pete's Clijsters posts used to generate...

Posted by Lisa 05/07/2007 at 08:10 PM

Pete, I think you might not get invited to the invitation after the two blogs you wrote today, and I'm guessing you're torn up about it.

Posted by Jay 05/07/2007 at 08:14 PM

Seriously, one starts to admire lip fungus when comparing her to Lady Garfield.

Women's tennis has the potential to be something absolutely great, phenomenal even. The most frustrating part of it all is when ladies like Kim who have it made in the shade poop all over it. What the crap? No one wants to hear about how sick and injured you are. It's NOT interesting. You are not a convincing martyr. I'm sorry, did you get stabbed in the back by a crazed fan of Julip? No. Did one of your parents die prematurely? No. Have you had to undergo intense scrutiny about your sexuality? No. Are you from a war torn country? No.

I don't want to hear about back pain unless you have some sort of alien-being growing out of it!

Her career should really be used as a what-not-to-do blueprint for future WTA players.
Quit cheapening your brand, ladies, and sell the crap out of it. It might not always be so easy to make 15 million in 9 years.

Posted by ptenisnet 05/07/2007 at 08:16 PM

You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward.
-James Thurber.

Posted by patrick 05/07/2007 at 08:19 PM

Has Capriati and/or Seles officially retired? If so, please let me know. I know they both stopped playing because of injuries but we do hear on occasion that they planned on coming back.

Posted by Orion 05/07/2007 at 08:25 PM

All I'm going to say on this subject is that I MUCH prefer Clijsters retirement to Seles lack thereof.

Posted by MrsSanta 05/07/2007 at 08:28 PM

AmyLu I'm not saying they have it easier. I'm just saying that in terms of social ambivalence towards supporting high achieving women high flying tennis players and female neurosurgeons are pretty much in the same boat. And its a leaky fast sinking boat. That they bail is not surprising in the least.

Back when Mr Juju filed for divorce there was broad agreement here that his position was too demeaning for any man worth his salt.

Monica Seles (who I may add is perfect and utterly beyond criticism) has earned the right to non retire as she sees fit.

Posted by Jay 05/07/2007 at 08:30 PM

No, no, no. Seles wants to come back. She wants to play tennis. She LOVES the game.
She has not officially retired, because she still hopes her foot will heal. Big difference between her and Clijsters' phantom pains.

These guys named Ronny and James do a great job with their Seles site. Go to: if you want more info on Seles...and go to Pete's site listed above for more on Clijsters and her love of rainbows and candy.

Posted by Lucy 05/07/2007 at 08:40 PM

Right, Mrs S, that's exactly why I brought up the partner issue. It was like it was such a big deal for Hardennne to be following Justine and her career around that it was really no wonder it didn't last. You hardly ever hear the same argument when the genders are reversed. Nobody ever brought up the fact that Brigette Wilson might've had better things to be doing than cooking pasta for Pete every night.

Ironic that Kim Clijsters of all people has inspired a line of feminist commentary.

The Seles and Clijsters cases are so different it doesn't even warrant comparing the two.

Posted by AmyLu 05/07/2007 at 08:44 PM

Oh MrsSanta, I agree with you completely. I didn't articulate my point very well. And I didn't think you were saying it's easier - just when I thought about it, in some respects, it's probably slightly easier if you're a tennis player (granted one at the very top) because you can offer a lifestyle that a banker, etc. cannot. And, with that thought in mind, it's not surprising at all that many female players quit at younger ages than males - or have more trouble negotiating the lifestyle.

Research based on the U.S. shows that even among dual-earner, high profile couples, most make their decisions on careers to the benefit of the husband and the detriment of the wife. Which goes hand in hand, with what you, Lucy, and Rosia have been saying.

Posted by GSte 05/07/2007 at 08:58 PM

Maybe we should dive further into the personalities of these players? For example, I think that in general, most of the top female players who reach the top are comfortable "going it alone". For example, we know that other than Rodriguez, Henin has no other support, and she's fine with that. Venus and Serena use each other as a crutch, but when they play at different tournaments, they have no problem isolating themselves from the rest of the field. When Mauresmo was thrust into the tennis spotlight during her coming out moment, didn't that make her a loner? Seles, Graf, Navratilova, Evert, Capriati, Sharapova etc???

Clijsters was always the girl that EVERYONE liked. Other than Davenport and sometimes Capriati, I have never seen anyone embrace the Williams' sisters after a match. I've always felt like Clijsters needed to be around friends and family. She never looked happy when she was alone. Maybe the intensity of competition was just too much for her? Didn't she say she's been pro for 10 years now?

Age is something else to think about. Many of the prominent women in the last 20 years turned pro right after becoming a teenager. On the other hand, with few exceptions, most of the men do not turn pro until their late teens.

If there's someone who reminds me of Clijsters, it's Kuznetsova. I'm curious as to how successful and how long she'll last on the tour.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 05/07/2007 at 09:06 PM


You slayed me with your "www.IhatetennisanddidyouknowI'" construct. It just doesn't get more frank and funny than that. Your deconstruction of Kimmie is brilliant, though not very compassionate. Then again, whoever said sports writers/analysts were required to show compassion toward their subjects, particularly when their subjects display very little passion.

Rolo and Dunlop Maxply -- you two have provided an interesting counterpoint to the whole affair: What is it that is driving women away from the games that they are excelling at and making handsome livings at? I think we must first concede that it seems to be a relative few women who cannot take the grind (or the heat, if you like), and that they are those close to the top. There are many journeywomen still grinding it out in their late 20s and early 30s with rankings fluctuating between 100 and 300. Mashona Washington is a good example.

So I think we then need to look at those individuals in question, and in this case we seem to be limiting our discussion to Clijsters, the Williams, Hingis and Kournikova. I'd throw in Davenport, but she won her share of Slams and had a stellar career, including Fed Cup, before injuries and motherhood called her away.

Could the same be said for Clijsters? Perhaps. I will not judge her on her decision to retire. But, like Pete, I will reserve bthe right to criticize her for the way in which she went about it. I believe we first heard of her impending retirement back in 2003 (or maybe earlier). So, it was the longest buildup to the biggest nothing the world of tennis has ever witnessed. Farewell Tour? Gimme a break. My 6-year-old's "knock knock" jokes are funnier and far more entertaiuning.

Now, as for Kournikova... she's a puzzle to me. As Dunny Max has suggested, she certainly could have played a few more years and maybe even proved to be the Todd Woodbridge of women's tennis. She was that good at doubles. But again, her foot and back injuries were real. They cannot be dismissed too lightly. And with a career as the first Paris Hilton waiting, who can blame her for bailing?

Then there are the Williams sisters. And if there ever was a conundrum as knotty as the one they present to the world of sports watching, I haven't found it. Except maybe Mike Tyson. Let;s face it, these girls got game, and athleticism in spades. But they don't seem to have the stomach for a full year of tournaments. Injuries have plagued them both, it is true, but they were relatively minor and both women seem to have been able to come through rehab and play at a high level. (If winning a Slam after rehabbing an injury isn't hight enough, then I don't know what is.) So they leave me scratching my head, which is why I find it difficult to pull for them or to get interested in their careers. I'm certainly not interested in what they have to say. With the Williams sisters, I take them one match at a time. And sometimes I get treated to something akin to the Thrilla in Manilla. THat's enough for me, as I'm not that attracted to the women's game anyway. If Dementieva could find or buy a serve, and Ivanovic find some mental toughness, I might be turned around.

SO that leads me to Hingis, who comes through looking like shining silver! At the ripe old age of 24, she's already retired from the game once and has staged a reasonably impressive comeback, given the relative strengths of her talents and her deficiencies. She'll never be an Agassi, who's sheer physicality, passion, and tactical genius led him all the way back to World No. 1. But, she still has the best head in the woimen's game, and she's giving it aher best shot. I canot find fault with that, as much as I'd love to see her raise her game to match that of Henin, Sharapova, and Mauresmo.

Posted by skip1515 05/07/2007 at 09:16 PM

The blogger doth protest too much, methinks. But finding no motivation for this similar to the Player Queen's, I attribute it to a clash of personality types, not unlike the unmoveable object confronting the irresistible force. As evidence I submit that Clijsters has no love for the NY Dolls.

I leave it to others to say who is the force and who is the object.

Results? Okay, let's see.....27 career singles titles, 14 in dubs, one Grand Slam title, multiple losing finalist and semi-finalist results in same, frequently touted as not having that killer instinct....

Oh, wait.

That's Sabatini's career, not Clijsters', who actually had 34 singles titles and 11 doubles, and who, unlike Sabatini, was actually ranked #1 for a brief, shining moment.

Transcendentally inspiring? No. Dogged, up to the penultimate moment? Yes. Today's power baseline version of Sanchez-Vicario, without the Spanish joie de vivre? Yes. (Sorry, don't know how to say joie de vivre in Spanish.)

I don't know how to generate as much antipathy towards her as you, Pete, given that her worst offense was a mixture of poorly handled pr, a fresh-faced persona that some found hard to believe, and some scheduling episodes that sometimes put the legitimacy of her injuries in doubt. Other than that she failed to win some big titles a few times. Big deal.

She's 23 years old. I'm no age-ist, but maybe we give some players credit for more maturity than their calendar years warrants, as compared to their Years On Tour age. Then again, maybe the immature thing was playing tennis for too long, like a child who does what the adults think they're supposed to, and not what is best for them.

She has also been the willing victim and participant of a culture that believes athletes should have their own web site, where their every thought merits publishing. Suffice it to say that reading their personal (sic) pronouncements at their sites only proves that they'd be better off being more inscrutable, not less.

As far as how the women respond to being on tour, etc., the key thing may be how they're taught to play tennis. When each point is a war of attrition, when so few players can win short points thanks to a hugely overpowering serve, forehand or volley game, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that they don't want to do that for years on end.

Posted by GSte 05/07/2007 at 09:18 PM

Slice-n-dice, I don't think either Venus or Serena has had "minor" injuries. Serena always has to be careful of her surgically repaired knee. That partially affected her '05-'06 seasons. Venus had a severe abdominal strain that to this day has affected her serve. She has said that she cannot serve as huge as she did from '00-03 in every single match she plays. Additionally, Venus has a serious, reoccuring wrist injury that acts up from time to time. Let's not even get into their personal lives, which included their parents' divorce and the death of their sister. I think they are a different story than Clijsters, who, as far as we know, has only (I mean "only" in comparison to what the Williams' sisters have gone through) dealt with wrist injury, back injury and the Hewitt affair.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 05/07/2007 at 09:18 PM

Almost forgot here I was headed with that last post....

One question that might be asked, as a sort of complement to Rolo and Dunlop's discussion, is: What attracts women to and keps them passionate about the game?

And here I think we might find a range of answers that staggers the mind. If you poled the men and asked why they chose a career in professional tennis, I wager you'd get less than a handful of distinct answers. Buut with the women, I'm guessing there's a pandora's box waiting to be opened. Just to use an example, let's look at Mary Pierce, whom we all used to sympathize with because of her coaching father's abuses. Freed from under her father's cruel spell, we've finally come to loathe her gamesmanship. Was she the master of her own destiny? Or was she pushed and cajoled and tormented into playing the game that she was so good at? And how many other stories on the women's tour sound a similar note?

I believe that if we want to get to the root of what's not quite right in women's tennis, we need once more to go to those early parent-child, coach-student relationships. It is a well-known fact among teaching professionals that girls, particular pre-teen and teenage girls, are far more "coachable" than boys at the same age. What's not talked about is how much more dependent they become. And, in some cases, a co-dependency develops between the coach and athlete, which is unhealthy. And when the coach is also the parent, particularly the father, that co-dependency can lead to a pathology.

I'd be very interested in Pete's take on this, as well as others.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 05/07/2007 at 09:26 PM


While I won't dispute the seriousness of the Williams' injuries, but I will say that they both have managed to rebound quite well fro them, winning Slams, which tells me that they could endure a more complete playing schedule were their hearts in it all the way. Of course, they must live their lives as they see fit. We merely get to critique their decisions.

Posted by i'm a meanie 05/07/2007 at 09:57 PM

I know I'm horrible for saying this, but the devil in me would be secretly pleased if Kimmy's marriage fell apart within a year or two. It just seems that she's got this totally unrealistic vision of what marriage is, all wine and roses and babies and aprons...ick.

Posted by Lisa 05/07/2007 at 09:59 PM

As a feminist, I find what Kimmy is doing appalling. First of all, I'm married and want to have kids. I was forced to reduce my workload because of health reasons. However, in doing so, I left with my professional reputation intact.
What Kimmy has done in doing a runner mid-season is the height of unprofessionalism.
So she wants kids, so she wants to be married? You can do that AND work.
Look at Mammma Bammer. She's bringing up little Tina quite nicely and is refreshing to see Mammas on the tour.

Posted by rafik 05/07/2007 at 10:01 PM

wow Bodo what on earth has Kim ever done to you to be so harsh.
I don't remember you ever being a pro tennis player with a Slam win,many Slam finals and 34 titles to your name.
It's easy to yap away but it's another thing to bash a woman who you do not know and whose shoes you've never walked in.

Posted by patrick 05/07/2007 at 10:03 PM

Glad that you mentioned Sybille Bammer. While raising a child, Bammer is playing the best tennis in her career. That goes to show that if you are determined, you will succeed.

Posted by Sanja 05/07/2007 at 10:07 PM

I have often thought that if Kim had won that French Open Final against Capriati (2001?) when she was up 5-1 in the third that her career would have had a different trajectory. Instead of stepping up to the plate with a competitive edge from that experience she seemed to decide to seem to be a bit above it - too nice to win - and be contented to be the nice perennial bridesmaid - until now, that is.

Posted by Ruth 05/07/2007 at 10:20 PM

patrick: Neither Capriati nor Seles has retired officially. Nor, for that matter, has Davenport -- even though she said something to the effect that she can't envision playing after her child is born.

When Kim let her longtime coach go and did not replace him, I knew that we were in for some strange times. But nothing could have prepared me for the way that she bothched her "year of the retirement."

Perhaps, some of the money that she saved by not paying a coach should have been used on consulting with a professional PR person on how to handle her last year -- or she could simply NOT have announced her retirement so far in advance of the time that she meant for it to happen.

But, if she felt obliged to let us in on her upcoming retirement, at the very least, she could have announced which 6 or 7 tourneys (those she said that had "special" meaning for her) she planned to play in -- and then played in them with the same enthusiasm that she played with in Antwerp. I think that would have been good enough to silence even her harshest critics.

And, BTW, she definitely should have played Fec Cup last month because, unlike Justine (as Samantha reminds us), Kim had no so-called problem -- real or imagined -- with the FC captain or the Belgian FC officials.

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 05/07/2007 at 10:37 PM

I can't honestly say if I have ever watched her play. But if someone that I didn't respect and didn't particularly like were quitting the game, I think I would let her go quietly and thankfully and not release some vitriolic diatribe about her at the last minute; right down to the last insincere "I wish her well in her marriage". That kind of back-biting belongs on girl's-school playgrounds, in fact not even there.

Posted by Ray Stonada 05/07/2007 at 11:07 PM

Excellent point, Sanja. I think she retreated into another identity, the homemaker/good wife, as a way of changing the focus. And she did it in a way that previous generations of players, raised in the era of second-wave feminism, from Steffi and Monica to Chrissie and Martina, never would have. She fits in better with the current retrograde stereotype of women as less driven and capable, I suppose. (To me, this is a cultural issue about the difference between an era in which Billie Jean King is an icon and an era in which Nicole Richie is.)

Posted by mccarveln 05/07/2007 at 11:19 PM

I remember watching a Clijsters presser from a couple years ago and thinking how disinterested she looked. I remember being so confused as to why this girl - a top 10 player gifted with greatness - was so detached. The past few months have showed me why. Finally!

Posted by creig bryan 05/07/2007 at 11:34 PM

When circumstances change, minds change, or minds die.
That death, whether physical, psychic, or cultural/social, is palpable. Do we dare presume knowledge of the circumstances? Do we dare impress our values on an assumed perspective?

Steggy: EARregardless of any lip, I once again find compliments and additional respect for you. After all, I would know.

Keep Smiling

Posted by tlis 05/07/2007 at 11:53 PM

Pete, thanks for a great post. I actually liked Clijsters' game for some reason, but found her lack of dedication rather troubling.

I also want to salute you for calling out the concept of 'niceness.' I think it is used and cited all too often as a way of deflecting criticism or a potentially 'harsher' reality, so thank you for the expose (noun form not verb), if you will.

Posted by Heather Havens 05/08/2007 at 12:01 AM

Did I miss something here? When did Kim Clijsters ever purport to despise the game of tennis? She is clearly burnt out and ready to move on, but that does not equate to despising tennis. Now if you can find me a quote where she admits to detesting the sport, I'll gladly eat my words.

Also, being nice is about behavior, which can and should be held to a moral standard. Behavior is not "just a characteristic" in the same way that looks are an attribute.

That said, I agree that Kim's farewell tour has been pretty pathetic. I am glad it's being put out if its misery.

Posted by Pam 05/08/2007 at 12:18 AM

Well you're right in that women can have children, a family AND work...but why should women have to do all those things?
It's feminism 60s style + the advent of the two-income earner household slapping women in the face. Not only are women expected to have a baby, hubby, and run a household, but a gal should have an accomplished career too.

I don't see how Kim's career is an affront to feminism.
Feminism is about expanding, protecting, and supporting a woman's right to choose. Kim chose marriage over career. It's a personal choice. I don't know how many of you have experienced having a long-term, long-distance relationship. I have and I can tell you it's difficult, but made easier by the fact that my schedule is relatively more flexible than my boyfriend's. Now with all the travel involved and intense training, I can only imagine how difficult it is for these WTA players to sustain relationships with boyfriends unless the men are fellow tennis players or coaches.

As for Kim's retirement, I'm disappointed that she's leaving with only one slam. Her breakthrough at the US Open 05 when she came back from a set and a break down to defeat Venus, then Sharapova, and Pierce (who has the second-best HC record that summer) was a joy to watch and her athleticism was something special. It is disappointing seeing someone so physically gifted retire before fulfilling her potential. Stopping immediately was the best decision. Her heart just wasn't in the game anymore.

Posted by James 05/08/2007 at 12:27 AM

I think its real pathetic that Peter Bodo picks on someone that's accomplished so much. Kim Clijsters reached no.1 she won a grand slam and made millions of dollars. I think most young women would dream to be as successful as Kim at the tender age of 23. Clijsters just got bored of the grind. People don't know how boring tennis can be. You may travel the world but you don't get to do much. A lot of the players time is spent in airports, hotels, tennis courts, gym. Kim made her money, shw won a slam she is a heroine in Belgium. I do admit that Kim can be a bit of a drama queen. I think she's conflicted she obviously loves the game but I think she hates the grind. Kim is young and I do think its kind of foolish she's giving up her career for a man. I honestly do. I mean what's the rush girlfriend? She can be married and still play tennis. Perhaps Kim is already pregnant? Did Peter Bodo ever consider that?

Posted by ptenisnet 05/08/2007 at 12:34 AM

I think the point of the whole feminism and being able to work and bring up kids and everything is really about having a choice. The freedom to do what you want to do. And she chooses to end her tennis career. So what?

Posted by Roger 05/08/2007 at 01:08 AM

I see where you're coming from Petey. What you dislike is how Kim lured, and mislead alot of neutral tennis viewers in choosing her over other harder competitors who are still in the game, and fighting to gain more titles.

It's the charade that Kim has put over alot of people that that's any ounce of love of the game called tennis out the window. But what annoys me is as you say how she used the shield, and holier than thou attitude to the other stars of the game that never received such puff pieces in the tennis media or general media.

Most of the other WTA stars were held accountable for every error public indiscretion, and loss. When a Serena or Justine loses a match - it's a huge deal, and they are judge on it for all it's worth. Kim lost, well... she's nice and didn't want to make the opponent feel bad or pressured. Don't you love her over the others?

In the end the choice is hers, and that's fine. But boy how her fans must deceived? Maybe not- obviously they weren't interested in the actual tennis matches I suspose?

Posted by jac 05/08/2007 at 02:02 AM

If I may, I would like to pay my dues to the Mrs. Santa-add inslut(I'm sorry, that was a Freudian slip of the most unforgiveable proportions)I mean insult to injury club:

I think our Kimmy in whose chocolate-coated muush NZ. butter wouldn't melt, was a tad disingenuous.

At one moment she's as cute floral dresses and ringlets and the very next mo she is publicly slashing Justine in the most thinly veiled character assasinations-and Justine, as much as I might kid our lovely Sam the Vikingess, did not deserve such treatment.

I don't know why EJW always seemed to give her a pass on this stuff-if you think something smells in a match,Kimmy, have the Willanders((Oh I forget, that's not possible in this instance)scratch that, have the guts to say so directly.

Also I noticed she lacked some bottle when things got tough, particularly in a match against Lindsey a few years ago, were she smoked Lindsay in the first set, lost a close one in the second, and played like a complete "burke" in the third.

Sorry, Kimmy, I greatly prefer your mentally tougher compadre.
(Lunch over, back to work).

Posted by haole1 05/08/2007 at 02:30 AM

i got tired of Clisters after her uninspired performance a few years ago in LA at the end of year championships (heck i dont even know what they're called anymore)
she said she was jet lagged and couldnt play at 100% Jesus h christ
kim what the heck else do you have to do? get there a few days early or a week early you play tennis for a friends went up there from San Diego to watch for a few days women play uninspired tennis in a cavernous empty stadium in a tournament that was promoting the sexuality of a 17 yr old Sharapova...
bring back Graf, Martina, Chrissie, Monica heck even Novotna at least she cried when she choked...errrr..lost (with respect to Jim Rome). we want players who want ot be CHAMPIONS not a belly itcher...yeah i know it dont rhymm

Posted by joy 05/08/2007 at 03:18 AM

In a way I'm glad Kim retired. I like her basline game a lot but it has been frustrating to watch her lose matches she should have won.

I do agree with most of Pete's observations but that ESPN blog was kinda rough.

Posted by Koen 05/08/2007 at 04:25 AM

Mister Bodo,you must be a very frustrated man. I know it's hard for you to fill those magazines with decent things, but it's really pathetic to criticize Kim Clijsters like that. She has won the US Open, twice the Masters, and played a lot of semi-finals and finals in grand-slams. How many players can say that? I admit she didn't really live for the game, but that underlines just how talented she was. She has always known that there are other things in life than just tennis, and she's right. You call her an underachiever and a dull player. Is that a well builded analysis? I don't think so. It's the frustration of a boring middle-aged man, who looks at women tennis with his pick instead of with his heart and who can't believe that players can actually still laugh and be happy after losing a game of tennis.

Posted by ro'ee 05/08/2007 at 04:43 AM

great post, pete, but curling dull?!?
check this out:

until i met you guys i thought i was alone in my disdain of kimmy

Posted by Goat 05/08/2007 at 06:01 AM

Pete, Your deconstruction of Kimmie is rude and says more about you than says about her. But do not worry, i will not make a deconstruction of you. I really could't, even if you are a public figure, there are dimensions in you that i will never know and any deconstruction would be false. I have this position: public figures do not born public figures, most of times media makes them public figures, they are just people trying to make something meaningfull with their lifes. Having said that i do not see how people born and live just for you to get an impression and when is't bad to you to make a deconstruction. But maybe you just think to have a life is to make deconstructions of public figures, as a journalist or what whatever you are. But it's in part because of that that i admire people as kim, that figures out that life it's much more that sending balls with an racket to the other side of a net or being a public figure to people as you to deconstruct, while people as you just makes me feel how wrong our ocidental style of life are becoming.

Posted by Snoop 05/08/2007 at 06:12 AM

Hey guys, what's all the fuss about??? I mean, can't you remember the many times Clijsters mentioned tennis was all about having a good time... so stop taking yourselves so serious as if your opinion matters, in the end it's caused by the injuries. Sometimes I don't understand why our girls are being protected that much... Serena got back (???), is her fashion-tour already over, will we see her again this year??? Venus is all but a competitor anymore and than there's...
Let Clijsters do her thing, she never had or wanted to see the fire in her eyes, for her it was just a hobby raising a pretty nice income... so slow down guys, your heart's beating faster for the wrong cause...
In the end it's all clear, we'll be the ones suddenly writing blogs to express our frustration, not Kim...

Posted by skip1515 05/08/2007 at 07:43 AM

Pete, I've found your post sticking in my head, and wasn't sure why.

This morning it's come to me that you usually display a pretty dispassionate tone towards the personalities in the sport, kind of anti-KAD. The depth of vitriol expressed here is out of the ordinary for you, (due to what, a top flite but not all time great player?), and all the more noticeable because of that.

Posted by Samantha 05/08/2007 at 07:48 AM

Wow in reading over the comments, a lot to agree and disagree with. I disagree that Kournikova had the talent to become a great double specialists. In doubles, you still have to serve, Kournikova led the WTA in faults and had one of the worse serves to ever grace the court. To quote Justine, "I'm not used to a serve that slow". Also, when you play doubles with the #l player in the world, it compensate for your lack of talent. After Hingis stop playing with Kournikova, her doubles declined, Kournikova was smart to use tennis as a foot in the door to make million in the modeling industry. I'm no fan of Kim and I have criticized her greatly for the incident with Justine, but I think this blog is very hard on her. Kim is a GS winner and has won many tournaments, including two masters, and I believe she deserves to be in the THF. Because we don't like the personal decision a player makes doesn't give us the right to not give them credit. Kim earned everything she got from tennis, nothing was given on the basis of looks, personality or because she came from a particular country. Look at Roddick, why is he given so many endorsements and commercial deals?He's more popular then Roger, simply because he's American. I respect Kim and I wish her all the happiness in the world. The bashing of Kim needs to stop and this is coming from someone who made the MISTAKE of saying some very mean and untrue things about Kim. Kim have a great life. Go Justine!

Posted by patrick 05/08/2007 at 08:00 AM

Well said, Samantha. Forgot that Hingis was a top notch doubles player when she was #1 in the world in the 90s.

Posted by Dirk 05/08/2007 at 08:05 AM

hi Peter, Dirk from Belgium. Perhaps you should consider writing a blog about women's tennis in America and how it got burried long time ago..

Posted by Rosangel 05/08/2007 at 08:57 AM

Sorry, I didn't reply to you before because my original response to Hank/Dunlop was posted just before I fell asleep.

It seems to me that a lot of the young women on the tour (I have no specific knowledge of Clijsters' early background) may be playing tennis at the level they are because a parent or authority figure has pushed them to be there. And even if someone really loves the game, there is no reason for her to love the circumstances in which the game is played at tour level - away from 'home', if a tennis player really has such a thing, many weeks in the year, not seeing friends (women on the tour being notably less sociable together than the men, as well), not getting a higher eductaion, having great difficulty forming/sustaining a serious relationship with a 'significant other', and continually being under scrutiny for her physical attractiveness or lack theoreof in a way that can be difficult for any female, but particularly when young, which most of these women are. We mostly see them sweating and putting forth effort on court, not dressed up and made up when they are relaxed, which is how many women prefer to be seen in public.

And then there's the societal view that somehow it's a good thing for a young man to pursue a sporting career at this kind of level, but it's still less accepted for a young woman. I think many female tennis players must feel this kind of pressure - a conflict between being seen as feminine, and being seen as a successful athlete.

Also (sorry if this is controversial - it's not in any way meant to be unsympathetic - in fact is quite hard to express) we know there are a number of gay female tennis players (not all of whom have chosen to come out), but to be honest I can't see why that should make any difference to how it feels to be on tour so many weeks in the year - and gay women are no less likely to be objectified than other women. While of course I think anyone's sexuality is her own business, I do think that the known existence of a number of lesbian women on the tour puts a degree of added pressure on the women who are not gay, to appear feminine - because of the way that society may be ambivalent about the sexuality of female athletes in general, and making assumptions about their private lives that may be completely unfounded. Don't get me wrong - being gay is a perfectly good and valid lifestyle - but being stigmatised whether you actually are, or merely assumed to be gay, is not good at all, and I imagine it hurts. I'm certainly not blaming gay women for the stigmatisation factor, just pointing out that it exists. Not always spoken, but it's there.

The difference between the men and the women - well, as others have said, a young man will still suffer from being on the road so much, and the stresses of being on the tour. I can't think of another sport that requires individuals to travel for far and for such a long period every year, and alone, not in teams, to boot. But I've seen figures suggesting that around half the men on the tour are accompanied by a wife or girlfriend. Those who aren't - well, many of thenm don't lack casual female companionship, in a way that I need not be explicit about - but which for all kinds of reasons isn't much of an option for the women on tour. Very few of whom travel with a husband or a boyfriend. We discussed this at length after Justine Henin's marriage broke up.

For many women, the tour is just not cut out to be a lifestyle they'll enjoy. And understandably so. Factor in the youth of many of them when they begin touring - no wonder if some of them end up feeling burnt out in their mid-twenties. Doubtless many, as they grow up, also end up feeling exploited by parents/authority figures too. Seems to be a particular problem for the women, that last one.

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