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Clijsters keeping balance

US Open champ is a parent first

By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / August 28, 2010

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NEW YORK — Make no mistake: Kim Clijsters considers herself a mother first, a tennis player second.

Yes, the Belgian is the defending champion and seeded No. 2 at the US Open, making her a popular pick to win the year’s last Grand Slam tournament, which begins Monday.

And, yes, she considers herself obligated to help promote her sport by offering to do things such as throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a major league game, which was on her schedule last night when the New York Mets hosted the Houston Astros.

None of that, though, is as important to Clijsters as her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Jada. Who could forget the way the toddler pranced around on the blue court in Arthur Ashe Stadium after Mommy beat Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in last year’s US Open final?

There are moments when tennis simply must be set aside, when her family takes precedence over on-court preparation.

“It’s about balancing; just listening to yourself. I have days when . . . I want to spend time with Jada, and I don’t want to go to practice, and I want to make sure I’m there for her,’’ Clijsters said. “And luckily, I’m not the type of athlete who, if I don’t do it, I’m going to be panicking.’’

There are plenty of players, the 27-year-old Clijsters explained, who feel compelled to adhere to whatever workout or practice routines are established for them by a coach or trainer.

She, on the other hand, is OK with taking an afternoon off.

“I’m like, if I don’t do it today, it’s not like my game won’t be the same tomorrow,’’ Clijsters said, gesturing with her left arm, the one that bears a tattoo of Jada’s name on the wrist.

With a racket in her hand, Clijsters is at her best on hard courts. All three of her tournament titles in 2010 came on that surface, including a tuneup event at Cincinnati this month.

“I’ve always felt more comfortable on this surface, not just this year, but even when I was 14, 15, 16, when I started playing my first few summer series in America,’’ Clijsters said. “I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I can move better, and I can see the ball better.’’

She owns a 14-match winning streak at the US Open, taking the title the last two times she entered, in 2005 and 2009. Clijsters missed the tournament in 2006 because of a wrist injury, then was away from the tour for about 2 1/2 years while she got married and had a baby.

In one breath, Clijsters says she doesn’t think about numbers like that 14-0 record. Yet in the next, she says she knows that if she plays well, she “can beat anybody out there.’’