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US Open title could be the beginning for Clijsters

Now that Clijsters has won a Grand Slam title, more majors could quickly follow.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2005 13:31 IST

Now that Kim Clijsters finally has won a Grand Slam title, more majors could quickly follow.

Clijsters was saddled with the dreaded "Best Player Never to Win a Major" tag after falling short in her first four tries to win a Grand Slam title. But she put a definitive end to that on Saturday, trouncing Mary Pierce for the US Open crown in the most lopsided final in eight years.

"Winning a big goal is always very difficult," Marc Dehous, Clijsters' coach, said on Sunday. "She had some amazing wins. She was No. 1 in singles and doubles. But the Grand Slam is something special and it's difficult. ... Now she finally did it. So I hope many more will come."

Clijsters will rise to No.3 when the new rankings are released onMonday, a sharp climb after being down at 134 on March 6. No one ever doubted Clijsters had special talent. The Belgian was No. 1 for 12 weeks in 2003, when she won a record nine titles, reached the finals in 15 of the 21 tournaments she played and won her first season-ending WTA Tour championship.

But she couldn't get that Grand Slam title, the ultimate mark by which players are measured.

"Sometimes of course I got a little frustrated every time I got asked in press conferences about (it), and I had the idea that the media was making more of it, like a bigger deal than it was," Clijsters said. "I was very motivated, and I was working hard to try to do it."

It wasn't as if she didn't have her chances. She reached the finals at the 2003 French and US Opens, as well as the 2004 Australian Open. Each time, she lost to fellow Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne. She also lost in the 2001 French Open final to Jennifer Capriati.

Some questioned whether Clijsters, considered one of the nicest players on the tour, wastoo nice. Or if she lacked the killer instinct needed to win the big titles.

But that was pre-injury.

After her loss to Henin-Hardenne in Australia, Clijsters missed time in early 2004 with tendinitis in her left wrist. She made a brief return, only to injure the wrist again. She withdrew from the French Open, and had surgery that June to remove a cyst on the wrist. She missed Wimbledon and the US Open, tried to come back, and hurt her wrist again.

"Coming back, getting injured again, doctors saying you can play, doctors saying you can't play, it's mentally tough," Dehous said.

The worst was hearing some doctors say she might never be the same player.

"When doctors say, `It's going to be very tough for you, maybe not to quit, but to reach that same level again,' that's very frustrating to hear," Clijsters said. "In a way you hear it, and it sort of goes in and out because you don't want to keep thinking about the negative thoughts."

The tough times had one positive effect, though. Not being able to play tennis made Clijsters realize how much she loved it, and more appreciative of the opportunities she had. When she finally returned in February, the 22-year-old, who has talked of retiring in two years, brought a renewed determination and focus. "That's the whole completely different attitude that I have now. No matter what I do, I'm going to go for it, because it could be over," Clijsters said before the final. "If I get another wrist injury, if I have anything else, my career could be over very soon. That's why I want to go out there and just enjoy every shot that I can hit."

The new attitude was evident right away. She won her second and third tournaments after she returned, beating No. 1 Lindsay Davenport at Indian Wells, California and Maria Sharapova in Miami. She went on a tear when the summer hard-court season started, winning at Stanford, Los Angeles and Toronto, all without dropping a set.

"I think I was very motivated and ready to go," she said. "That's something that I probably never have felt before so quickly, how it could change."

She continued her roll at the Open, not dropping a set in her first four matches. She beat Venus Williams and Sharapova again to reach the final, then steamrolled Pierce 6-3, 6-1 in a match that took little over an hour.

When it was over, Clijsters dropped her racket and put her hands to her mouth, a mixture of shock and disbelief on her face. "I didn't know what I did," Clijsters said two hours later, laughing. "I don't know what my first thought was anymore. It's pretty bad, actually, because I want to know how it felt. But I can't."

First Published: Sep 12, 2005 13:31 IST