Tuesday August 9th, 2011

Kim Clijsters, 28, who won the Australian Open earlier this year and is ranked No. 2 in the world, returns this week after missing two months with an ankle injury. Before playing her opener at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion spoke with SI.com about the successful second act of her career, one particular blind spot in her pop culture knowledge, tennis' grunting issue and more.

(Update: Clijsters withdrew from the Rogers Cup in the middle of her match on Tuesday.)

SI.com: We haven't seen you in a while ...

Clijsters: I know. I've been rehabbing my foot, training hard. I'm ready to start my American summer season.

SI.com: Where have you been training?

Clijsters: I started my rehab in Belgium for the first three weeks. Then I've been in the States, in New Jersey, where my husband and his family are from. We have a home there.

SI.com: If I said "Snooki or JWoww," what would you say?

Clijsters: [long pause] Sorry?

SI.com: If I said "Snooki or JWoww," would you know what I was talking about?

Clijsters: No.

SI.com: No Jersey Shore?

Clijsters: No. I don't waste my time with that stuff. I don't have time to watch those kinds of things.

SI.com: But you're living in Jersey. Your husband is American. Your English is perfect. You know, if you played for the U.S., we would stop having to hear about the state of American tennis. You sure that doesn't have any appeal to you?

Clijsters: But I'm a Belgian! My husband has dual citizenship, but I don't. Just my Belgian passport. I've always loved coming to America, even when I was younger. I've always had a close connection to the people and when I've played here -- at Stanford or San Diego and L.A. -- I really enjoyed it. Over the years, my feelings have grown stronger and stronger. I've been able to have some of my best results here. At the U.S. Open, it's so much fun. We have so many family members sitting in the box, it feels so much more personal than a Grand Slam.

SI.com: I think when most people consider your career, they divide it into halves: Kimmy Part I and Kim Clijsters 2.0. You see it similarly? Or no?

Clijsters: No, I do feel the same. But I feel like the second career wouldn't have been as good without the first career. Everything I learned, experiences I had, dealing with a lot of things ...

SI.com: What do you mean? Handling nerves?

Clijsters: Yeah. In some ways, you're the same person; you play tennis the same way. But you learn more about yourself, just being in different situations. Some of the losses I had, you take those situations and learn from it.

SI.com: You were 1-4 in your first five Slam finals. Since returning in 2009 after two years away, you're 3-0. Do you see yourself as a different player mentally?

Clijsters: Sure. When you're 18 or 19 and playing those big matches, well, I would get nervous, then [afterward] you're thinking, "I was so close to winning a Slam." That was hard for me. Now, I'm such a different person. Yeah, I still get nervous, but you're able to deal with those emotions in such a different way. When emotions take over [and you're older], it's not bad!

In the past, it seemed I never played my best tennis in the Grand Slam finals. That was more frustrating than losing -- knowing that I was unable to give my opponent the best Kim Clijsters. But that's the past and you learn and that's what I meant before: When I play a final now, I've learned from the ones I've lost.

SI.com: We'll go from the past to the future. A year from today, the tennis for the London Olympics will be over. A lot of players are clearly using that as a benchmark to reassess. Are you in that boat?

Clijsters: I am. Definitely I'll focus on the Grand Slams, bigger tournaments and then the Olympics. And I'm not looking further than the Olympics yet. So, yeah, I think the older generation, we're trying to get through the Olympics.

SI.com: This question came from a reader: Do you think Justine Henin helped or hindered your career?

Clijsters: Definitely helped -- though it was an annoyance to lose those matches against her. But before we got to playing Grand Slam finals, it was a huge motivator. We've talked about that. We were the same age, same country, yet completely different places, different upbringings, different games. And then we have similar careers at the same time. That was crazy. We grew up together. I mean, we shared hotel rooms when we were juniors. So I've supported her. It was only hard when we had to deal with attention because the media was always taking what we said [and telling the other], so as teenagers it was very confusing.

Now that we're older, we look at those years we had on tour together and I'm proud we didn't have the negative stuff written about us influence our careers. But, yeah, we learned from each other and -- we've talked about this -- others, too. Serena, Venus. We'd say, "Venus only needs to take two steps and she gets to the sideline!" so we felt like we had to improve a lot. Everybody you lose matches to, anyone you see [who] is dedicated, that will be a motivator.

SI.com: This interview was set up through USANA Health Sciences, the official health supplement supplier of the WTA, so let's play ball. Do you want to talk about health and nutrition, especially coming back from injury?

Clijsters: I've always been intrigued, because it's not the healthiest lifestyle with the jet lag and the irregular schedules and matches and practicing. So I saw the importance of supplements, and knowing which supplements [were OK to take]. When the whole doping system evolved, we had to be very careful -- players were testing positive for taking supplements that weren't clean. The Tour was looking for a company that was giving athletes that guarantee [that products are labeled accurately].

SI.com: Where do you stand on this grunting debate? Does it bother you when your opponent is making noise?

Clijsters: It's funny: When I play against someone who grunts, I don't notice it. I've played against [Victoria] Azarenka and didn't notice it. But, to be honest, when I watched Wimbledon [during the injury layoff], I noticed how loud it can get. So, yeah, as a fan I noticed it. As a player, being focused, I don't notice it.

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