“I didn’t understand fully how tricky retirement would be. Every athlete will tell you, when they stop at a young age it is tough to find the kind of fulfilment you want. Some need to come out of retirement to find it, people get bored, they want to play at the level they once enjoyed – but that wasn’t me. I was never in it for the money, or the limelight. I played to win.” Pete Sampras
Pete Sampras was 31 when he retired, with 14 Grand Slam titles to his name and nothing left to prove. Kim Clijsters is 25 and planning her comeback after a two-year retirement.
Despite the best wishes of the tennis world, the odds are monumentally stacked against her. Success has been elusive for tennis fathers, who have won just 10 of the last 115 Grand Slams, but for women it’s been about as common as Hailey’s comet. Evonne Goolagong was the last mother to win a Grand Slam when she collected the Wimbledon title in 1980; go back 66 years to find the previous Grand Slam-winning mother in Mrs R.L Chambers, also a Wimbledon winner.
Since Googalong, successful mothers on the women’s tour have been about as common as a grand slam-winner at your kid’s playgroup. We could find record of three mothers winning on tour: Sybille Bammer of Austria, Laura Arraya from Peru and 1999 Wimbledon Champion, Lindsay Davenport.
Clijsters said when she announced her return: “I am curious to see if life on tour with a family is possible. I think it is possible. I think I can make it as good for my daughter as it is for me. I think I can be successful.”
It depends on course on how you judge success. History suggests Clijsters has an uphill battle to win that elusive Wimbledon title, not impossible, but near to it.
“‘It is so much different this time around,” Davenport said on her return in 2008. “It seems like a second career and I think I enjoy it way much more than I used to.
“There is an incredible amount of down time but because I am so occupied with my son and taking care of him, there is no time to get bored. It is a lot more enriching and I have a lot more things to worry about than my tennis.”
Davenport is pregnant again and says she has no plans for a second comeback. She does, however, believe Clijsters will become a grand slam-winning mother. “Our games relied on two vastly different strengths. Mine was ballstriking and hitting winners,” Davenport told Espn. “I could play through not being as fit because I never relied on my foot speed, whereas she is so athletic and she’s so fast. I think she’ll be in a great position 18 months after her daughter’s born.”
Clijsters will be making her Wimbledon return at the Centre Court Celebration on May 17.