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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Real Wildcard?

The days before Roland Garros are numbered, and as qualifiers and wildcards take their spots among French Open favorites, there is a true mystery in the mix: Kim Clijsters.

The four-time Grand Slam champion is by far one of the most athletic and versatile players on tour, but a recent dancing injury has left her sidelined through the early clay court season. Now, as we draw ever closer to the battle for clay supremacy, Clijsters is back. Currently second in the world, Kim is the highest ranked slam champion and her veteran status makes her a powerhouse adversary for anyone trying to take the title. In good health you could call her a favorite for the tournament, but right now, that isn't the case.

Clijsters suffered from a shoulder injury after the AO, forcing her to retire against two-handed basher Marion Bartoli at Indian Wells. That, paired with her latest ankle mishap, makes for a less-than-perfect Kim Clijsters whose body will run the gauntlet on the fine clay of Paris.

Still, the Belgian can't be counted out for the slam title. She has a record for toppling world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki (a player many think may take the French this year) and drubbed world no. 3, Vera Zvonareva, in last years US Open final. She has good records against many of the other top ranked women and, on a good day, would be a solid bet for a championship run. But with young ladies like Kvitova, Petkovic and Azarenka starting to dig their heals into the circuit, Kim could find herself in a world of trouble.

Will this lady come to play?
It's all going to come down to Clijster's draw. She will need a few easy early rounds to find her groove on the difficult surface. Clay is not a court many can walk onto and master immediately, and having missed events like Rome and Madrid, Clijsters will need time to warm up. As soon as she's through, she will want to see runners and pushers, like Wozniacki and Jankovic, out as soon as possible (or not in her path at all). It's players like those who will test Kim's flexibility and health, especially the Serbian who has much more firepower than the Dane when she's playing her best. If she must face these players, she'll want to do so somewhere in the middle of the draw before her body gets worn down by the intense match schedule.

Assuming she survives these tests, Clijsters will have to depend on her raw and unfaltering athleticism to carry her to the finish line. I won't give my final picks for the tournament until just before first rounds begin, but I don't think anyone can count Kim out. She is, after all, the real wildcard of the French Open.

Suggested ClipClijsters v. Capriati. Masters 2003.
One of the best points (young) Kim Clijsters could have ever played.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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