WTA Finals Singapore 2017

Tough to be no. 1 with no slam

Kim Clijsters of Belgium became world No. 1 in 2003, two years before winning her first Major at the 2005 US Open.
Kim Clijsters of Belgium became world No. 1 in 2003, two years before winning her first Major at the 2005 US Open. PHOTO: REUTERS

Clijsters says top players have to deal with constant pressure, even after first Major win

It has been 14 years since Kim Clijsters reached the top of the world for the first time. But the Belgian still remembers how the questions she had to field were not only about the No. 1 title but also the lack of a Grand Slam title on her resume.

Her outlet for dealing with the scrutiny was yoga, she recalled, as it helped calm her mind.

The 34-year-old, who retired in 2012, told The Straits Times: "I found, within my personality and with my team, how I was just able to hang in there and not let it get to me emotionally.

"I just tried to focus on the fact that I was No. 1, I'd beaten every player but I just wasn't able to do it in the Grand Slams.

"So I just tried to really focus on the Grand Slams, trying to win seven matches in a row and give myself opportunities.

"And for me, it worked, but it's not easy because at every press conference and every interview, you have to talk about it and you have to answer it."

Clijsters became world No. 1 in 2003, two years before winning her first Major at the 2005 US Open. She added two more titles at Flushing Meadows in 2009 and 2010 and won the 2011 Australian Open.

Having to cope with criticism of being top-ranked without winning a Grand Slam is something current No. 1 Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Karolina Pliskova have had to contend with.

Asked if she had any advice for the trio, who are here for the WTA Finals Singapore, Clijsters said: "Everyone is different, what worked for me may not work for them. You have to find yourself and sometimes it's good to go really deep and to struggle because it makes you want it more a lot of times."

But she revealed that the pressure - from the public and media constantly demanding more - never goes away.

Although she felt huge relief after winning her first Major, questions about when she would win her next soon started coming.

"It's partly the nature of human beings, they always want more and I've noticed that," said Clijsters, who lost her first four Grand Slam finals. "Getting to No. 1 is a big thing. People will always say, 'But you haven't won a Grand Slam', and when you win one, they'll say, 'But you've only won one'."

She emphasised that learning to deal with such pressure comes with experience, and that each player must choose the outlet that works best for her.

"It doesn't happen all of a sudden, and you have to learn about yourself, too," she added.

"Being in the spotlight was tough at times but you grow and you learn to kind of filter through what is important and what isn't, and to be able to really just put aside the things that are out of your control."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Tough to be no. 1 with no slam'. Print Edition | Subscribe