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May 16, 2006

Kim Clijsters


THE MODERATOR: Questions for Kim, please.
Q. How excited are you about the next six weeks, and how well do you feel at the moment?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Well, first of all, I'm excited for this week and, you know, that's what my goal is now. You know, I'm never -- you don't really think ahead. You just try to make sure that, you know, you stay on schedule. So that's what I'm trying to do now, you know, just try to get my game - work on a few more things - where I would like it to be during the French Open, and then going on to the grass.
But, you know, to think six weeks ahead, still, that's very far. I'm definitely in a situation now where, you know, every day I try to work on my game and try to get it where it should be for my first match here first of all.
Q. Kim, a few weeks ago in Miami you had not great expectations considering your tournaments on clay.
KIM CLIJSTERS: I still don't (smiling).
Q. Since then, you won one.
Q. You're coming here to Rome. So did you change your mind about clay, and do you think now you are...
KIM CLIJSTERS: I still don't like it very much. No, it's true.
But I think in a way when you're relaxed and you don't, you know -- you're like, "Yeah, I'm gonna try," whatever, it's a motivation for me to find my game on clay. It's not that I enjoy it as much as when I'm playing on hard court, not at all. On a hard court, I can play my game on hard court like I want to play it. On clay, it's a lot more different, and especially with movement. That's a lot tougher for me.
But, you know, it's a challenge. It definitely is a challenge to try to make it work. But, you know, I don't think I -- I've never made the same type of level on clay that I make on hard court.
Q. Even with two Roland Garros finals?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, even that, yep (smiling).
Q. Do you find it a frustrating surface? What are your emotions when you play on it?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I don't know. I mean, I think it's a surface that's my least favorite. It's not that I hate it, it's just my least favorite out of all of them. It's just because, you know, my game depends a lot on my movement, which on hard court I can run, I can push off straightaway. Here, it's a lot tougher. Even if you push off, you keep on sliding a little bit. That's where, you know -- 'cause I see players like Serena as well. I mean, on hard court it's a lot easier because we're strong girls, have strong legs, we can push off easier. On a court like this, it can sometimes be a little bit of a disadvantage, I think, sometimes.
Q. You slide even on hard court.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, but on hard court you stop once you slide. Here, you just keep going. That's the only thing. Here, you don't know when you're stopping (smiling).
Q. How is your physical shape? Are you completely injury-free now?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, at the moment I'm completely. I don't think any player is a hundred percent at the moment. But, no, I feel good. You know, nothing is stopping me from going out a hundred percent. That's the most important thing. Nothing is restricting me from playing, so that's a great feeling to have.
Q. Is it ironic that you could get back to the first spot playing a tournament on clay?
KIM CLIJSTERS: The ranking, I mean, it's great that I'm in that position, but it's never been a main -- like a main goal for me. I mean, like I said, like if I would get back to No. 1, I mean, that's not anything that's on my mind at all.
You know, I'm here just to play tennis, and what happens, you know, if I feel good, that's more important now, is trying to make sure that I'm going to take that feeling, make sure that I stay injury-free, and then hopefully I can do well at the French. Obviously, the Grand Slams are the most important thing I think at the moment, and then we'll see.
But, you know, the ranking has never been an important point.
Q. Do you see a difference between the German clay, Italian clay and Roland Garros clay?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, especially the Polish clay (smiling). In Warsaw, it was, it was... phew, unbelievable. It was like you were on the beach, you know. It was unbelievable.
The German, obviously, last year -- it all depends a lot on the weather as well. It depends a lot on what the weather is like. I mean, here the weather is great. It's going to be a little bit faster, the courts dry out a little bit quicker, so I'm going to be able to slide a little bit more.
I remember a few years back in Berlin where we had a lot of rain. The courts were really heavy. It's a lot tougher as well. The rallies take longer. So, I mean, it all depends a lot on the circumstances, I think, that the tournaments are in.
But I think the clay courts at the French Open are the best, I think. I mean, here they're really good. They're hard and you can still, you know, move. At the French Open, there's, you know -- for a clay court, that's the best one you can get, I think.
Q. (Through translation.) Mauresmo and Sharapova are not here. Do you think that helps you?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Oh, Jesus, no. I mean, my first round is, you know -- I have a tough -- I play I think Morigami and Chakvetadze. That will be very tough. Seeing players pull out or being injured, that's still so far. I mean, if I would ever get there, you know, in that situation, there's so many other tough players out there. You have so many good clay court players out there. You have some many Italian girls who are really good on clay like Schiavone. She played really good tennis. There's so many other ones. Kuznetsova. There's so many that I've lost to before on clay.
If Mauresmo and Sharapova are not here, it's a shame I think for the tournament to see those two big names, to see the past champion, Amelie, not be here. But I think for the public there's still going to be a lot of great matches and a lot of really good players and a lot of Russian players, a lot of young girls coming up. I think that's what's still very interesting for the public, too.
Q. You actually weren't out three years, but as someone who made a successful comeback after a layoff last year, what do you make of Martina so far these first five months of the year?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, I mean, she's been very consistent, I think. She's looked very professional. I haven't seen all her matches, but she looks very professional out there. She really looks motivated, you know, to be out there and to get stronger every tournament. That's, I think, amazing to see, is that she's putting the effort in there and, you know, she's an unbelievable player. I played against her in Australia. It was still -- I don't think there's anybody on the tour who hits the ball as clean as she does and can just read the game so well. You know, even in those three years that she was off, I think she's never lost that. That's just, I think, pure talent that she has.
Q. Did you find when you came back from injury - I'm sure you didn't want to be injured - but when you come back, do you feel refreshed? Does it feel like you're starting again?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, it feels like a little bit of a second career, I guess. When my injury happened, I thought at the time it was the worst thing that could have happened, but afterwards, you think -- like it was, it was good for me. You get to sort things out, you get time to just be home with your family and friends, which makes you hungry again to play tennis as well.
And knowing that you have that support around you is very important to have. I think that's what made it a lot easier for me to start the season, to travel again. Yeah, so I think that's where it's made a big difference in my career right now, is that I built up a good base at home and, you know, I can combine it well.
Q. Even if clay is your least favorite surface, do you think that you are improving your game on this surface?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I feel it's definitely getting better. In Fed Cup against Dementieva I had absolutely no idea, I think, what I was doing with my game. But second match against Kirilenko was a little bit better. And then in Warsaw, too, I felt like every match, it started to get better, and that's important. It's important to know, you know, know yourself. You have to feel it out there yourself, and that's what I started to feel a little bit. Every match I started to feel a little bit better, and I still feel that there is a lot of improvement to keep working on, but it's definitely going in a good direction.
Q. But you think you are feeling better even than comparing when you were in the final of Roland Garros against Capriati and Justine?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Jesus, that's so long ago (smiling).
Q. You were playing well at the time as well.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, but... so long.
I mean, it's so hard to compare, you know. It's so hard to compare feelings. I mean, compared to yesterday, it's easier, but...
Q. In your game, do you think it was much better at that time?
KIM CLIJSTERS: But it's so hard. Even the games. I mean, you have more experience now, you learn more how to deal in situations, you know. So it's very hard to compare.
I mean, when I played my first final there, it was against Capriati. I don't know, how old was I?
THE MODERATOR: You just turned 18.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, so, it's too hard to compare even. Every match you improve maybe not your game, but mentally as well, and so it's too hard to compare.
Q. On clay is it more a question of confidence than technical and physical? It's a question of you haven't got as much confidence in your game?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I don't know. I don't know. I think on any surface it's a combination of everything, but I think on clay, too, I mean, the physical part is also very important because the rallies take longer. So I think it's still on any surface, it's, you know, a combination of everything. I mean, you need to have confidence on any surface, yeah.
Q. A lot of players who sort of have to work out how to play on clay then find out when they get better at it, it improves their game on other surfaces. Do you think that could be true of you, that it could be part of a progression?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, that's something that I think I was trying to do for the last few years, is trying to find my game on clay. Felt like I never really found it. So now I just play, keep playing your own game, because I'm strong enough, I'm powerful enough to get through my opponents with my strokes, with my ground strokes.
But, you know, it's definitely a lot more frustrating because the balls keep coming back. You know, when you hit a good return or a good shot on a hard court or a grass, I mean, most of the time the next shot or that shot is a winner. Here, you know, the ball comes up high again. You start all over.
That's, in a way, it's, again, like I said before, it's challenging to be able to stay out there and keep, you know, digging into the points and keep working. And it's a different mindset, definitely.
Q. Following that, would a good run on clay be more satisfying, perhaps give you more confidence, than perhaps a good run on another surface?
KIM CLIJSTERS: No, no. I mean, now I was so surprised what happened in Poland, the way I played, that I'm just already happy with my clay court season (smiling). I just hope that I can play well and enjoy it. That's what I'm trying to do. As long as you have that, then, I mean, you play better, too, if you enjoy it out there. You know, you feel easier, you don't worry about the game too much.
Sometimes I think it's, you know -- I was thinking about it too much as well. I was just worrying, you know, "I have to find this," and, "I have to hit the balls there." Then, yeah, I mean, I'm never -- you have to do what feels right out there and you don't think about it too much.
Q. Do you know how many tournaments on clay you won in your career?
KIM CLIJSTERS: No. I mean, I don't know on any surface.
THE MODERATOR: In Hamburg against Venus. Three, Rome.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Rome. I don't know. On hard court, I don't know (smiling).
Q. Kim, you know very well Francesca Schiavone because you have played ten times and you won every time (laughter).
KIM CLIJSTERS: Sorry (smiling).
Q. Now, Francesca is 11 in the ranking. Do you think she can improve in the future and be the level of the top 5?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, I definitely think so. I think she's very -- you know, I definitely felt a change, I think, in her game as well in the last let's say maybe like eight months, nine months. She's become more -- she's always been a great defender and she can do so many tactical things out there, but she's become a lot more powerful in her strokes. I think that's where she felt like she was maybe missing a little bit still is where, you know, she could mix her game up with slices and high spin balls. But now she actually gets in there and smacks like backhand winners and she can come in and run around her forehand. That's where she's been a lot more, I think, powerful, is where she is playing a lot more aggressive when she has to. She's a very good all-around player, I think.
Of course, I mean, her movement is incredible. She really defends well. She's always fighting out there, you know. Even like when I played against her, I don't, you know -- we've always had fun matches. Like I really enjoy playing against her. It's been a lot of fun.
Q. Do you think it's strange that Francesca didn't win any tournament until now?
KIM CLIJSTERS: (Shrugging her shoulders.) I don't think -- I mean, she's good enough to do it.
Q. Yeah. It's strange for the No. 11 of ranking.
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, but, I mean, you know, I was No. 1 and I didn't win a Grand Slam. That's what people were saying about me, too.
So, you know, that's why I say ranking, I never focus on too much. You know, I think it's great where she is now, and, I mean, she's a really good player and she deserves it. Obviously, she's had really good results and been very consistent, I think, too, in her results. She definitely deserves to be up there.
Q. Are you working without a coach at the moment?
Q. I mean, you're doing pretty well. Do you need a coach?
KIM CLIJSTERS: No. Are you offering (smiling)?
No, I'm fine.
Q. But do you think, you know, would you be happy to go on for a long time without a coach?
KIM CLIJSTERS: Yeah, yeah. Yep. I feel, you know -- you get to know yourself a lot better, I think, as well. You know, I know what I have to do out there. I know my game better than any coach. I know what I do wrong as well.
Yeah, so I don't need -- I have a hitting partner. I will try to organize a hitting partner at the tournament. My hitting partner from Belgium will come over to the French Open.
So, yeah, it's just a matter of -- it's a little more organizing. You know, a lot of coaches, they help go get the practice balls, arrange everything. But, you know, I do everything myself, and that's no problem.
Q. But you don't miss, for example, when you're preparing for a match someone to just maybe give you some advice about how to play a particular opponent?
Q. Do you think you would have been able to manage without a coach when you were younger, 18, 19?
KIM CLIJSTERS: No, no. I think when I -- I remember a situation that I was in when the coach that I had before, Carl, when he retired, like when he stopped. I think it was a lot harder because then I couldn't have done what I do now because you're in a situation where you still, you know, on the tour, you still have to learn how to live this lifestyle a little bit. And that's, you know -- in that situation when I was younger, I couldn't have done it.
But now, you know, I've been doing this for I don't know how long I've been on the tour. Six, seven years?
KIM CLIJSTERS: '99, Jesus. Long time.
But you learn, and you learn to prepare. You know what you feel like. I know my routines and I know what makes me feel good before matches. So there's no coach or nobody really who can tell you what to do or can tell you to change, so no.
Q. Did you change your way of training because of your injuries?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I mean, for a while I was. For a while, I mean, I think my training schedule has been like this, up and down. I mean, there was no routine, I think, really in there. That's something I think any sports person needs, is to find their routine. I think that's why also my results, you know, have been a little bit up and down is because, you know, I never had a chance to practice, to find that rhythm because there was always something bothering me. It started with my wrist, then it was my hip and my shoulder, my knee. There were just so many little things that would stop me from being able to practice as much as I would like to or when I would like to. That's been very frustrating.
But now, you know, that's why you just keep working hard at other things at that time and hopefully the injuries get better and then you can start all over again and start working hard.
Q. How are you going to prepare for Roland Garros after Rome? Will you be the full week in Paris before the tournament starts?
KIM CLIJSTERS: I'll go home for like a couple of days. You know, I'll maybe come over on Wednesday. So, yeah, that's it. Just come over on Wednesday and practice there for a few days.
Q. You don't have a coach, but you have a physical trainer with you?
KIM CLIJSTERS: No, no. I use the WTA physios now, yeah. They built up a really good system. It's a lot better than it was two years ago. They have some of, I think, the best physios traveling with us. We're very lucky, I think.

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