Friday, May 21, 2010

CLIJSTERS, HENIN—THEY HAVE COME BACK, BUT WHY DID THEY LEAVE?

How quickly we forget…



Memories can be short. Because there are many people who record all kinds of statistics regarding players and matches, tennis history is generally accurate. Perhaps not as good as the meticulous but ridiculous recordkeeping in baseball (which probably records tee shirt colors of players who caught fly balls in Connie Mack Stadium in 1954). Despite the tennis data bank, memories in tennis can still fall short. Such is the case with last year’s comeback of Kim Clijsters, who returned to the WTA tour in the summer of 2009.


And what comeback it has been! She has won three tournaments, including the 2009 US Open, the Brisbane, Australia International in September, 2009, and the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne. FL March of this year. No one ever mentions one of the important reasons that she left the tour at just age 22. What they fail to remember is that when she was 20, she had announced it in advance. She had said openly many times that she it was her plan to retire at age 22. Why? Because her body was taking a beating and she didn’t want to live through more injuries. She said this long before she explained that she wanted to get married and have a child. So there should have been no surprise here. She simply kept her word.


In the meantime, she married US basketball player Brian Lynch in 2007, and had daughter Jada in February of 2008. And guess what! She is now suffering from an injury suffered in Fed Cup play -- a muscle tear on the inside of her left foot. This injury has forced her to withdraw from the 2010 French Open, where she is a two-time finalist. Because of this injury she also withdrew from the Italian Open, which was won by Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez earlier this month. And she didn’t play in the Madrid Open, either.

My point is this: regardless of her more current injuries, she had planned to retire all along because tennis was beating her up her body. She gave injuries as the reason – her wrists. No one mentions that fact now that she’s back on the women’s tour. Here is how the comeback was reported a few years ago by Associated Press, which offered this incomplete background information in its story:
“Clijsters, who retired in May 2007, to get married and start a family, announced her comeback at the tennis facility where she has been practicing. She plans to enter the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 31 -- her first competition at Flushing Meadows since winning her only Grand Slam singles championship there in 2005.”

Not exactly so. The AP-- and Kim herself-- neglected to remind the tennis world at that time that the reason she gave in 2003--when she was just 20--was injuries. In 2006 she announced her engagement to Lynch and they married in 2007. Before Lynch, she had announced her engagement -- in December 2003-- to Australian player Lleyton Hewitt. But their relationship ended in October 2004. Aalthough at the time of her retirement she said the reason was to start a family, no one in the media mentioned that she had previously announced that she was planning to retire at age 22, which would have been in 2005! It’s unlikely that either Hewitt or Lynch was in the picture at that point. BBC Sport put it this way:

“...But a series of injuries prompted her to retire aged just 23 in May 2007, with a second-round defeat by qualifier Julia Vakulenko at the J&S Cup proving the final straw. She has since married American basketball player Brian Lynch and gave birth to daughter Jada Elly in February 2008.”

So she now has the family she wanted but she is not now injury free. She recently withdrew from the French Open because of a left foot injury. When she first stated anticipating retiring at age 22, her wrist injuries were the problem. Now, will her current foot problem—and her family—start her to thinking again about whether being back on the WTA tour is worth it? No one knows and she probably wouldn’t ever say, and probably doesn’t know yet herself. This is simply my personal speculation. And with so much success—3 titles in just 6 months!—maybe she’ll be able to push all that aside and continue her dedication and commitment for years to come. She’s now 27 years old. There likely aren’t that many years ahead of her before it will be “safe” and acceptable for her to retire again without surprise from her fans and the tennis world. Dismay, yes, but sheer shock? No. On the other hand, she could choose to retire again before then to have another child and save her body. Who could blame her?


There have been other notable comebacks:

Tennis’ “Date” with a different Kim—Some might say that Kim Date Krumm, is THE spectacular comeback player – at age 39! Her return to the tour after 12 years of retirement (encouraged by her husband, race car driver Michael Krumm) has been way under the radar, even though she won the Korea Open last September, just one day before her 39th birthday. Kim’s new-found light has been shining brightly at the French Open, where she blinded Dinara Safina into 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 first-round defeat.

Lindsay Davenport retired in 2006 to have a family, but there was little shock and fanfare. She had married John Leach in 2003, and in 2007 her son, Jagger, was born. It was just 6 weeks later that she was back on the tour. Now that’s a comeback! She won several lesser tournaments. Then we didn’t see her for a while. She left the court again when she gave birth to a baby girl, Lauren Andrus, on June 27, 2009. She hasn’t broken ties with tennis, however. She is frequently a commentator on Tennis Channel, and a pretty good one at that.


Jennifer Capriati returned to tennis after taking a break in 1993. After several years of personal troubles, including shoplifting and drug abuse, she came back in November of 1994, a return to the tour lasted just one match, which she lost. Following that perplexing incident, Capriati went on a sabbatical of 15 months and did not play on the tour at all in 1995. It was not until May of 1999, that Capriati would finally win her first tournament in six years. Due to injury she has not played on the tour since 2004, when she played her last match in Philadelphia.
Monica Seles: Who can forget the comeback of Monica Seles? In my opinion Seles would have been THE greatest female player of all time, had she not been stabbed in the back at a tournament in Hamburg, Germany, by a nut who wanted her rival, Steffi Graf, to claim the #1 ranking. And that she did, for many years to come. Seles was robbed, but she was courageous. After overcoming a debilitating emotional state, Seles returned in August, 1995, and just five months later won her fourth Australian Open. Foot injuries and weight gain slowed her comeback pace and eventually she accepted the fact that she could no longer be as competitive as she wanted to be and retired in 2008. (from her book, Getting a Grip) She was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009.

Martina Hingis: Hingis-- one of my favorite players next to Seles, Ana Ivanovic, and Serena Williams-- left the tour temporarily in 2003, because of ankle injuries; she came back in 2006. Then, in 2007, she was what I call “driven out of tennis” after testing positive for cocaine use during the 2007 Championships at Wimbledon. She denied this vehemently but was suspended for two years. That was the end of the road for competing on the women’s tour. But I was thrilled to learn that this summer she will be playing Team Tennis, which includes a stop in Philadelphia for matches to be played at Villanova. I doubt this is a precursor to a return to the women’s tour since she will be 30 in September.

Martina Navratilova: She retired in 1994 at 48 and came back in 2003 at age 47. She has continued to collect titles in women’s and mixed doubles to this date – at age 54!. This year Martina Navratilova will team with Jana Novotna (left) at the French Open, where the two will play in senior doubles competition.

Justine Henin: To me, Henin-- queen of “Never say Never land.”-- is the most puzzling comeback of all. It was only 2 years ago in May of 2008, that Henin, ranked #1 at the time, shocked the tennis world when she announced she was retiring – just one month before the French Open, which she had won three years in a row (2005-2007). Her reasons? She was mentally and emotionally drained, her body couldn’t take it, and she wanted to do something else with her life. (By the way, Henin’s retirement left the road open for a 2008 French Open victory by the newcomer, Ana Ivanovic, who shot up to #1, and who has faltered ever since, with a current ranking of just 41.)
At the time of her retirement, Henin said during a news conference:” I realized that I was at the end of the road. I lived through it all, I had given it all.”

 
No, she would never come back. She was done with tennis. Done, done, done.

Well, we all remember that, right?

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