Kim Clijsters called in from Belgium on Tuesday to take part in a media conference call promoting the BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup in Madison Square Garden. (Yes, that rolls off Kim’s tongue with ease.) The one-night exhibition on March 1 features the reigning US Open Champ, Venus and Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova paired up in two one set, no-ad scoring semifinals followed by a best-of-three-set final.
Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams will meet in one of the semifinals, in what the tournament is touting as an all-caps “REMATCH!” It’s the first time the two women have played a match against one another since last year’s infamous US Open semifinal.
Clijsters, who travels to her husband’s home state of New Jersey this Sunday to continue training for the tournament, says that she, too, is excited to face the World No. 1 again:
“I really, really look forward to playing against Serena. . .I can play a match against the best athlete in the world and just kind of get back into the whole match rhythm again.”
Kim says that she and Serena are a great match-up off the court, as well:
“When you see (Serena) in the locker room, she is one of the funnest and coolest girls to hang out with. She’s so relaxed. You know in the locker room there’s some girls who don’t even look at you when you come in . . . But you have a few girls who really like to have a good time in there because you spend a lot of time at the courts, and Serena’s definitely one of them. She’s a girl who likes to have fun. She takes tennis very seriously but the other side of tennis is the personal life and she’s always up for a good joke and that’s what I like about her.
“That’s something I’ve always admired about Serena even when I was younger, so I’m glad I’ve got to know her better over the last few years”
Serena wasn’t so much fun during their US Open semifinal, which Clijsters called “sad” but insisted was ancient history. “We both played an extremely good match (in the US Open semis) and I think that it just gets a little bit overpowered by the ending. But to me it’s something I really don’t think about at all anymore.”
The one match she can’t put aside so easily is her shock 0-6, 1-6, defeat to Nadia Petrova in the third round of this year’s Australian Open, the worst of her pro career.
“The time that I think about it, I think that it hasn’t really brought me an answer to what happened (on court vs. Petrova.)
“We all have off days, you know, most of the time they happen at practice and it’s not really a big deal. But with this one it was – it came out very hard. It was frustrating. I also didn’t want to leave Melbourne on a negative note so we stayed there a couple days and tried to do a couple fun little things with (daughter) Jada so I could leave Melbourne on a happier kind of atmosphere – just so going back there next year, I have a better vibe for the whole trip.”
Though she pulled out of Fed Cup after the Australian Open, Clijsters promised she’s been practicing hard – if only to work that bitter defeat out of her system:
“It’s easier when you get home and get back in your normal environment and go back to your routine of practicing hard and working hard so you don’t really think about it as much afterwards. But it’s something that had a big impact especially because I wanted to do well there.”
One very happy memory from Kim’s time in Melbourne came from another exhibition tournament – the hastily pulled together Hit for Haiti benefit with Roger, Rafa & Company:
“It was a fun thing for the players and a very easy thing for us to do. There were so many people struggling on the other side of the world at that time. It was also very special because when we were all waiting in the corridors (to go out on court) we all knew what we were doing it for but it was also so unique to see so many of the top players on one court. Roger (Federer) was the one who made the call and came up with the idea, so we were all very flattered that he asked us to be a part of it.
She added that she and Serena enjoyed their own brand of fun: “We were sitting together watching the men play and chatting away and having some fun conversations on the sidelines as well. Luckily our mics weren’t on at the time.”
It’s hard to keep Kim from feeling positive, and she says she’s looking forward to coming to the States for the “happy atmosphere” of exhibition tennis, a small birthday celebration for her daughter – who will be turning two years old at the end of February – and a carriage ride in snowy Central Park.
After the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York, Clijsters continues on to Indian Wells and then to the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, which Kim says are the kind of “big tournaments” that make it onto her limited pro schedule these days.
There’s another big tournament on Clijsters’s schedule: the 2012 London Olympics. She says she’s keeping up with the action in Vancouver and especially enjoys watching the medal ceremonies: “Hopefully in a few years I can play the Olympics and be in that kind of situation, myself.”
Tickets for the BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup are currently on sale and can be purchased at the Madison Square Garden box office, all Ticketmaster outlets and online at www.thegarden.com.