Belgian ace and World #2 Kim Clijsters won the US Open – again – with a sound spanking of Russia’s Zvonareva during Saturday’s final. Here at BP, we’re always interested in the psychology of greatness as much as in the physicality of performance – and so Clijsters’ is an interesting story.
She’s a former World #1 who retired from professional tennis in 2007 at the age of 24. At the time, she said it was injuries that forced her retirement, but there were also stories of burnout a la our oft-cited Andre Agassi, and her evident (and entirely understandable) interest in getting married (she did) and her father’s health (he died).
Fast forward to 09, and Kim, just like any Belgian mom returning to work after mat leave, gets back on the circuit with her baby daughter in tow. She’s not sure how it’ll all work out – but on the court at least, she’s a smash, winning the US Open over Serena Williams. And now she’s gone and done it again, although her triumph Saturday was a tad easier than the 09 victory.
From The Herald Scotland, here’s what Clijsters said of her young – and outclassed – opponent: “I was in a different situation a few years ago when I played my first grand slam final. I think when you’re younger, it overwhelms you. She’s been on the tour a long time and she’s has played some big matches and has beaten a lot of really good players. But a grand slam final have a different vibe, a different occasion, and it just becomes so much more important.”
A different vibe, a different occasion. There’s the psychology part. The best players know how to deliver their best when it matters. They aren’t as likely to be fazed by big pressure. Clijsters clearly knows, even with (or maybe even more so due to) her new family responsibilities. Zvonareva too may learn – although at 26 she’d better get on her horse. Because sure, the mind is important, but the flesh must be willing…